CEPO documents 15 violations of political, and civic freedoms

The Civic Space Watch, an initiative of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), at the weekend, revealed it has registered an increase in violations of civic space in the period from April to June 2024 with six more violations in comparison to the period from January to March.

According to the organization, this negative development is disturbing as the country is set to hold General Elections in December.

“Additionally, the country is undergoing a challenging moment of a political transitional process that requires tolerance for consultative dialogue,” CEPO’s press statement said.

The registered incidences of the violations of civic and political space include; on 16 April, the Wau County commissioner threatened CEPO in Wau over comments on a matter of communal violence, the CEPO director in Wau was summoned to explain the organization’s involvement in the University of Bahr el Ghazal academic staff strike over pay in early May, the arrest of a journalist, Chol Kimani, by security officers in Bor town, Jonglei State on 22 June after which he was released without being charged, the arrest of Abraham Aleu, and the SSBC photographer on 29 June in connection with the peaceful demonstration in Bor town.

“On 5 July, the National Security Service (NSS) launched a heightened search for Jonglei State civil society leader Bol Deng Bol, accusing him of inciting protests in Jonglei state, On 3 July, a civil society activist, Ter Manyang Gatwech, the Executive Director of the Center for Peace and Advocacy (CPA), reported that he and other colleagues were briefly detained by NSS agents deployed at the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA),” CEPO listed. “On 3 July, four Journalists were briefly detained in the national parliament, on 4 July, a civil society organization, INTREPID, offices were closed by NSS over engaging the Bor civil servants strike, on 5 July, an activist outside the country received a phone call from someone who claimed to be from the NSS and wanted to know his location for possible arrest.”  

According to CEPO records, on 5 July, an activist, Ter Manyang Gatwech of the Center for Peace and Advocacy (CPA), received a phone call from someone who claimed to be an NSS officer and who demanded that he stop criticizing the NSS Bill passed by parliament.  

Relatedly, on 5 July, civil society activist and CEPO Executive Director Edmund Yakani received three WhatsApp calls, one on a Rwandan number at 9:15 a.m., a Somali number at 9:30 a.m., and another call at 10 a.m. from a Sudanese number all threatening him with death for his rejection of the NSS Bill which allows the outfits operatives to arrest citizens without warrants.

“On 6 July, a journalist in Juba received a threatening phone call from someone who claimed to be from the NSS who ordered him to stop reporting about the brief detention of journalists and activists in parliament on the 3 July. On 2 July, two legislators opposed to the NSS Bill reported that security agents threatened them,” CEPO listed. “On 2 July, the Warrap State Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies suspended eight chiefs from the Kuach community, including their renowned Paramount Chief Joseph Kuol Amet, following a petition they presented to the Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly. And finally, on 3 July, the Jongeli State parliamentarian reported that a police officer threatened him for standing with state civil servants who were protesting over pay.”

CEPO’s Yakani said NSS officers have recently become emboldened and there has been a rise in their members threatening and intimidating members of the civil society and citizenry.

“This trend of the violation of civic and political space in the period April to June is abnormal and poses danger to effective public engagement on the political transitional process which will be concluded by holding General Elections,” he stated. “CEPO believes in consultative engagements with the state agencies on the political transitional process and it was highly encouraged and motivated by the statement made by the NSS Director of Public Relations on 30 June that his institution will ensure freedom of the press and freedom of expression for citizens.”

Yakani added: “CEPO was also encouraged by the statement issued by the Jonglei State governor on 24 June ordering county commissioners to open and ensure civic and political space but, unfortunately, it seems some characters in our security and political institutions like to take responsibility for shrinking civic and political space.”

CEPO urged national parliamentarians to engage in nurturing consultative civic engagement in the country, particularly during this moment of transition from violence to peace.  

“Finally, the CEPO Civic Space Watch initiative is urging for quick facilitation of a consultative dialogue between the civil society and the leaders of our security institutions for the creation of understanding for consultative civic engagement on the political transitional process in the country,” the statement concluded.