South Sudanese authorities detained six journalists over viral footage of President Salva Kiir appearing to urinate himself at an official event, press freedom watchdogs revealed over the weekend.
The clip shows the 71-year-old African country’s leader, seemingly oblivious as a stain soaks through his gray trousers and a pool forms at his feet while he stood for the national anthem during a road commissioning event in December.
After Kiir and his team appear to notice what is unfolding, the camera abruptly turns away.
Although the footage never aired on television, it circulated on social media, prompting authorities to detain six journalists with the state-run South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC), the Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ said Friday, citing multiple reports and three anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the arrest.
Law enforcement took the media workers into custody on January 3 and 4, Patrick Oyet, the president of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan, confirmed to Reuters the following.
They “are suspected of having knowledge” of how the video of the president urinating himself reached the public, the union chief declared in a statement Friday.
Authorities accused the journalists of “leaking” the video “widely circulated on social media” CPJ added.
“We are concerned because those who are detained now have stayed longer than what the [South Sudanese] law says,” Oyet told Reuters, referring to the 24-hour limit on detentions without charge.
South Sudanese law requires authorities to present arrested individuals before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, according to the State Department.
Oyet from the union pointed out that the journalists remained in custody at the National Security Service (NSS) headquarters as of Friday evening,
The government, which has repeatedly denied allegations that the president is ill, declined CPJ’s requests for comment.
Nevertheless, South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei told Voice of America people should wait to find out why law enforcement took action before reaching any conclusions.
The journalists’ arrest “matches a pattern of security personnel resorting to arbitrary detention whenever officials deem coverage unfavorable,” Muthoki Mumo, the CPJ representative for sub-Saharan Africa declared.
CPJ demanded the unconditional release of the SSBC employees.
The press freedom group identified the journalists as camera operators Joseph Oliver and Mustafa Osman; video editor Victor Lado; contributor Jacob Benjamin; and control room workers Cherbek Ruben and Joval Toombe from the control room
Echoing the CPJ representative, the latest State Department annual human rights report noted that the arbitrary detention of journalists unwilling to toe the Kiir administration’s line is common.
In an assessment of the African country’s human rights practices in 2021, State reported last year [indent direct quote from the report]:
Security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting they perceived was unfavorable to the military or government. … During the year security forces interrogated, harassed, detained, and imprisoned journalists and some went into hiding.
Kiir has been South Sudan’s only president since the country split from Sudan in 2011 to become the world’s youngest republic, a title lost to Barbados in 2021. War has raged in South Sudan since it became a nation.