London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The government of South Sudan has announced new administrative procedures forcing journalists to officially register with the Ministry of Information or face legal action. Journalists described the new procedures as an attempt by the government to restrict freedom of press in the country.
The new administrative procedures governing the work of journalists in South Sudan takes place against the backdrop of media speculation regarding the health of President Salva Kiir. Media reports have claimed that the South Sudan president’s recent visit to South Africa was to receive medical treatment for an unspecified condition, with the unsubstantiated reports arousing anger with the country’s media apparatus.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said that all journalists must register their credentials with the Ministry of Information, adding that any journalist who fails to do so will face legal action. Lueth affirmed that Sudan’s Information Ministry will not be in charge of vetting journalists.
The Minister revealed that the Media Bill, which was approved last year by parliament, is awaiting the President’s signature. He denied that the bill would restrict freedom of the press in the country.
“The government will not attempt to encroach on the freedom of press, the job of journalists or lawful access to information,” Lueth told Asharq Al-Awsat.
South Sudan was ranked 124 out of 179 countries in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
South Sudanese journalists, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, described the new legislation as a serious threat to freedom of the press in the country. The journalists said that the South Sudanese government’s dealing with the press increasingly resembles that of the Sudanese government.
The Minister of Information denied media speculation about President Salva Kiir’s health, informing Asharq Al-Awsat: “If President Silva Kiir was ill, there would be no reason for us to hide it,” adding, “it is illogical for President Kiir to travel to South Africa for treatment and come back the next day.”