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WAU/JUBA - 22 Oct 2021

Gag order against the media in W. Bahr el Ghazal

The government of Western Bahr el Ghazal State has issued a gag order prohibiting media outlets from speaking to state government officials until further notice.

The office of Deputy Governor Zachariah Joseph Garang has written to media outlets in the country barring them from talking to government officials and relevant authorities, except for the governor and deputy governor.

"Based on directives of the deputy governor of WBGS/Wau, you are hereby requested not to record or broadcast any media statements from all constitutional post holders and relevant authorities in the state except H.E the Governor and Hon. Deputy Governor of WBGS/Wau who are the only reliable sources,” the letter seen by Radio Tamazuj reads in part.

 “We, therefore, urge your authorities to cooperate and adhere to these directives without failure,” the letter adds.

The order bearing the name and signature of Mr. Alexander Upiou Angelo, the executive director in the office of the deputy governor, was issued in Wau on Wednesday.

It remains unclear what has prompted such an order.

Reacting to the news, Mr. Oyet Patrick, President of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan said the latest move by the state government would further shrink the scope of work of media outlets, which would curb press freedom.

"That is really a violation of the rights of journalists, it will make the work of journalists difficult,” Oyet Patrick said. “Our work is basically in the public interest. What if now a constitutional post holder is accused by somebody of corruption or any other offense and members of the public are demanding to hear from that person?” he asked.

Oyet called on the state authorities to follow the appropriate procedures through the Media Authority if they have any complaints against journalists or media houses.

Edmund Yakani, head of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), which promotes civil society values, said: "The latest development in Western Bahr el Ghazal state where a state order was issued for journalists or media houses not to speak to constitutional post holders, except for the governor and her deputy, is a serious concern because access to information will be a problem."

He added, "This development is disturbing because it restricts the right of access to information and freedom of speech, and specifically when journalists need information about any development in the state in a timely manner. The minister of information and any relevant ministers have the right constitutionally to speak to the media."

The renowned civil society activist called on the state government to cancel the order as it "violates freedom of expression and of the press."

"The main question that needs to be answered by to the state government is, in case the governor and the deputy governor are busy and cannot speak to the media, what will happen if the public need to be informed in a timely manner about whatever is happening at the state and county levels?” he asked.

Article 24 of the transitional constitution of South Sudan guarantees freedom of expression, information and the media and allows restrictions on these rights only as prescribed by law.