Amnesty International has warned that ten year old South Sudan is witnessing a “new wave of repression”, with many activists now in hiding after a string of arrests in recent weeks.
Since achieving independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has been struggling to recover from the aftermath of a five-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
The People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) – a broad-based coalition of activists, academics, lawyers and former government officials –in a declaration last month called for a peaceful public uprising and had urged the public to join its protest on Monday in Juba.
The demonstration was branded by authorities as “illegal” and said that any such event calling for leadership change was not peaceful. Heavily armed security forces were deployed to monitor the streets for any sign of opposition.
According to rights groups, the authorities arrested eight activists, detained three journalists and two employees of a pro-democracy non-profit.
“We are witnessing a new wave of repression emerging in South Sudan targeting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s regional director for East and Southern Africa, said in a statement.
“Peaceful protests must be facilitated rather than cracked down upon or prevented with arrests, harassment, heavy security deployment or any other punitive measures,” Muchena said.
Amnesty noted that many activists had faced harassment since the aborted demonstration, “with some suspecting they were being surveilled by security forces”.
The rights group also said it had received reports about internet disruptions on the eve of the planned protest.
“Internet shutdowns and disruptions adversely affect people’s ability to exercise their rights to freedom of information, expression, association and peaceful assembly. The South Sudanese authorities and internet service providers must clarify their role in the disruption,” said Muchena.
The authorities have also shut down a radio station and a think-tank in connection with the protests.
The United States, European Union, Britain and Norway In a statement released on Friday urged the South Sudanese government to protect “the rights of citizens to express their views in a peaceful manner, without fear of arrest.”