Juba. The wife of a prominent journalist held by South Sudan’s national security services called Monday for her husband to either be charged or released immediately from detention.
Michael Christopher, the chief editor of the Arabic language daily newspaper al-Watan, has been held at National Security Service headquarters — the dreaded “Blue House” — without explanation since last Wednesday.
The United States, international human rights groups and local activists have joined a growing chorus calling for Christopher’s release.
His wife Balita Rial said he had not seen her husband since Thursday. She tried to visit him Saturday but was denied permission, and his phone has since been confiscated, she says, severing any ties to the outside world.
“He is being held there without knowing why, and there is no one who can explain why he is in detention,” she told AFP on Monday.
Last Monday, Christopher and Rial were pulled off a flight to Nairobi, where Christopher was travelling for medical treatment. His passport was confiscated and he was told to report to National Security Headquarters for an explanation.
Amnesty International, among other rights groups, have documented horrific abuses against prisoners, including many held without charge for prolonged periods in horrific conditions in the secretive facility.
Once there, he was detained without charge, Rial said, adding she was concerned for his health and wellbeing.
James Okuk, a local activist, said Christopher should either be charged or released.
“If his detention is legal, then the charges should be known within 24 hours as provided in the constitution,” he said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) echoed this call on Saturday, saying his treatment fit a long pattern of abuse in South Sudan against journalists.
“The arbitrary detention of Michael Christopher is the latest brazen attack against freedom of the press in South Sudan,” the New York-based rights group said.
The United States embassy in Juba also added its voice, calling Sunday for Christopher be charged or set free.
Christopher had invoked the ire of authorities by writing about this year’s protests in Sudan. His newspaper’s license was not renewed in March. HRW said threats to his life had been made in the past.
South Sudan ranks 139 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2019 global press freedom index.
RSF says years of civil war has weakened the media, and government pressure means self-censorship is rife. From 2014 to 2017, at least 10 journalists were killed in South Sudan, which only gained independence in 2011.