By Ngor Arol Garang
While thrown behind bar on the order of Akol Koor Kuc, Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Service for internal affairs, exactly on the first day of this month (November 2011), human right organizations acting in solidarity with media fraternity sprung up to their feet to pressure our release from detention.
The group I owe thanks and for whom I wrote this special note includes the widely read online Sudan Tribune, reporters without borders, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Association for Media Development in South Sudan, Community Empowerment for Progress Organization and South Sudan Human Right Society Advocacy.
Personal friends and relatives included my own brother Albino Garang Arol Garang, Reverend William Mou Deng, Lual Agel, Majok Kanajak, Ateny Wek Ateny, Tong Deng Anei, Akol Ayom Wekdit, Mading Ngor (the manager of another online news provider dubbed New Sudan vision), Nhial Bol Akeen, editor chief of the citizen newspaper, Dr. Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol and Dr.Luka Biong Deng both of whom are senior members of the South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), among others, courageously stood with my family members.
Their resolve to join pressure group was necessitated not by personal bonds but conscience to remind government of constitutional obligation to respect human right and press freedom, as enshrined in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan
The reason which necessitated my arrest is that on Saturday 22, October 2011, the residents of Juba, as members of the public may be aware, witnessed the wedding ceremony of the President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s daughter, Adut Salva Kiir, to Nardes Jebeyehu Alemneh, as husband of her choice. Almenhu is an Ethiopian migrant in South Sudan.
The ceremony attended by senior government officials was held at Rejaf Catholic Church where the president was officially seen handing over his daughter to bridegroom in the presence of the family members and relatives including friends. Viewed as bridal right since it is claimed that love has no borders, the acceptance of the president to allow his daughter to marry a foreigner without objection, met with a lot of hard feelings and public disquiet including individual members within the president’s own family.
Causes of commotions were grounded on cultural practices and traditional values managing marital rights. Some customs and traditions views president and other high ranking officials as symbols of national integrity and pride, thus putting them under close public scrutiny, including examining the backgrounds of those seeking to marry from their family members.
Many argued that president owes thanks and appreciations for bypassing traditions and customs which holds freedoms of daughters and sons to marry based on their choice. Others supported traditional practices of which some cultures in South Sudan including the Dinka tribe, to which the president belongs, requires that someone intending to marry from a high class family must have a clear family background.
This includes pleasant personalities as well as being a well known for achievements in the community from where the bridegroom wants to marry. Little was known about the president’s son in law since he comes from another country. This prompted many citizens to react against the marriage in social forums and other networks including internet based forums where community members share events, latest developments and current affairs with those residing outside the country. Others reacted in the print media some of which include The Citizen and Almasir daily newspapers which are some of the print media widely read in Juba.
The public reaction carried on for more than four days until on 26 October, when The Destiny newspaper, which was just being established, published an opinion written by a columnist called Dengdit Ayok, protesting the marriage. While the opinion was generally seen as another voice reflecting public reactions against the marital arrangement, some of the public members including elements from the National Intelligence and Security Service saw it at different angle including interpretations and arguments that the opinion had gone beyond limits of the freedom of expression into privacy.
Some views argued that some words of the opinion, especially the part blaming the church for blessing a bride claimed to be pregnant, should have been edited to avoid questioning religious teaching. Others claimed that churches including the Roman Catholic to which the bride belongs do not bless pregnant brides.
Other areas included the part questioning role of the presidential security guards, who seem to have not lived up to their duties to the extent that a foreign national easily gained access to the house of the president to make an affair with his daughter, casting doubts about ability of the guards to provide adequate security to the president, especially at the time when some of the senior government officials have always been heard complaining against external support to rebels fighting to remove his government from the power. Other fears were connected to safety of the president because of the international reports claiming that South Sudan is one of the countries in east Africa susceptible to terrorist attacks.
As talks against the marriage continues to be introductory point of any social gathering, the board of directors of the Destiny newspaper, on 28 October, convened a meeting in which a decision was reached to suspend the columnist who wrote an opinion believed to have exceeded right to freedom of expression to enter privacy.
His membership in the paper was suspended for one month and the management of the paper subsequently wrote and published a statement apologizing for publishing critical opinion on a family affair on 31 November. A copy of the apology was given to the family of the president and another to the ministry of information and broadcasting. The intention was to contain public reactions as voices against the marriage continues to dominate street talks in Juba.
Reasons for suspending columnist who serves as deputy editor in chief included violation of the editorial policy and operating procedures which requires all the reporters and opinion writers to submit articles and opinions to the managing editor and the chairman of the board of directors for scrutiny before publication. These procedures were bypassed as the opinion writer wrote his own opinion and submitted directly to the designer whose work is limited to only laying out and design of the paper. Another observation was the use of poignant language which hurt the feeling of family of the president as well as selection of some words blaming other institutions.
On 1st November, the National Intelligence and Security Service arrested me on assumption that I, as the member of the board of directors trusted with the editorial responsibility, have approved publication of the opinion which they believed have gone into privacy of the president and his family.
This follows a meeting held on 31 October between Akol Koor Kuc, the Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Service and Dr. Dhieu Mathok. Kuc and Dr. Mathok, who is the chairman of board of directors, could not reach a consensus on the demand that the opinion writer be handed over to them (National Security) for investigation, thus decided to invite me in the next meeting.
Kuc (the Director General for National Security) told Dr. Mathok that the purpose of the meeting would be to know one another with the editors and to see how best they in the security section could work together with the media practitioners in gathering information for common good of the country and the entire citizenry.
Kuc, however, on 1st November, trashed the purpose of the meeting as he told Dr. Mathok and turned it into an interrogative session asking why the opinion was published and subsequently ordered my arrest into the cell within the headquarters of the National Security located at Jebel Kujur. He also handed an official statement suspending the paper until further notice and equally instructed his subordinates to look for Dengdit Ayok to bring him into the cell too.
On 5th November, exactly five days after my arrest, the security elements after amounting intensive search, brought in Ayok and took him to a separate cell where he was kept without talking to other detainees until after four days. Brought after I have complained against torture and other abuses to the chief investigator, Ayok received only slaps and verbal abuse and was never beaten until we were released.
In the detention, I was subjected to callous treatment, tortured; saw degrading handling and denial of all fundamental right including family visit for the whole week. No access to medical examination even when I was visibly seen very sick as a result of unwarranted beatings. No lawyer was equally allowed to me and no charges were brought against me. I was kept in an isolated place within the cell where I was not allowed to talk to other detainees for the five days. With other prisoners, we were forced to lay down to be walked on with boots as an interrogative means of getting other information about us.
This became the source of why I always get into problems with the security guards who were fond of torturing people because I do not accept laying down to be walked on and to be beaten. Besides torturing, the environment in which I was held was another form of torture. One could knock against objects and hard standings when even one tries to visit a relieving facility located within the cell, because it was ever dark making it difficult to know the presence of other people around you.
The only way to know presence of other people was through touching or calling the name of the person you need to talk with. Another form of torture was clearly seen in feeding. 1.5 liters of bottled water was shared amongst four people and one piece of bread a day. Food from family members was either eaten by the guards or rejected on the pretense that prisoners are fed in the cell. One of my family members I have never seen until I was released claimed to have been taking the food and water to me while being held.
That he deposits the food and water at the reception where he was not allowed to visit where I was held. Besides this form of treatment, the hygienic condition was always in horrible shape as the environment was ever emitting foul odor. The cells were always full and congested beyond accommodating capacity. There were no opening spaces for ventilation.
This makes it possible to contract contagious skin and airborne diseases. People who were notably sick including constant cough with difficulties in breathing in the cell were put together with other detainees. With the mounting pressure demanding our release on the government increases, the chief investigator, on 17 November, told the guards to inform us to be prepared because we were to be taken to the court that day, which we welcomed but no move was taken until we spent another night.
On the following day which was 18, the Inspector General of police, General Acuil Tito Madut, presumably after communications with the Director General of the National Security sent a colonel from ministry of interior who works in the department of criminal investigation unit (CID) so we are brought to him. The colonel with five others went and brought us to him (General Madut) the same day evening.
In his office after arrival from the national security headquarters situated at Jebel Kujur, west of Juba town, General Madut said he was asked by the president to pass on to us his resolve to release us without going to court. That marks our release without charges. The General only asked us to refrain from writing against any public figure in the future, especially after I insisted on asking what I have done to warrant arrest and torture, to forgive and take it a lesson not to allow any subordinate to publish an article or opinion without my consent.
In the evening of 20 November, the family of the president and I in the company of some members of my family met during a meal prepared to bring us together. We exchanged smiles and greetings before getting into real discussion prior to reaching a wrapping up to restore trust and understanding to foster peace and harmony.
The author can be reached at email@example.com or alternatively firstname.lastname@example.org He is the managing editor of the suspended Destiny daily newspaper and a correspondent of the Sudan Tribune.