Holding of political detainees likely to delay healing in Juba

Sunday November 25 2018

James Gatdet Dak John Endley

William John Endley (left), a South African national and adviser to South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar, and James Gatdet Dak, a former spokesman of the rebel leader, hold hands as they sit inside the prison in Juba, South Sudan November 2, 2018. President Salva Kiir declared on October 31, 2018, the release of the two political detainees. PHOTO | REUTERS 

FRED OLUOCH
By FRED OLUOCH
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South Sudan's refusal to release all political detainees as per the September Agreement could delay the national reconciliation and healing.

While Juba recently released Riek Machar’s spokesperson James Gatdet Dak, the whereabouts of other prominent personalities — Peter Biar Ajak, Kerbino Wol, Samuel Dong Luak and Aggrey Idri Izbon — remain unknown.

The former chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Information Thomas Wani Kundu has remained under house arrest in Juba since 2016. He is not allowed to go to church or even attend funerals.

The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) representative in Kenya James Oryema told The EastAfrican that the continued detention of perceived opponents is going to derail the implementation of peace deal, and is not good for national healing.

“This is a clear indication that the government remains intransigent, because signing the peace agreement meant reconciliation and forgiveness. If some of those peole are dead, it would be good for the government to come clean so that their families can accept and move on,” said Mr Oryema.

He said SPLM-IO had kept its part of the bargain and released prisoners of war through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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Remaining criminals

On September 17, President Salva Kiir issued a decree that political detainees be released with immediate effect.

South Sudan Permanent Representative to the African Union, James Morgan, said that the government has released all political detainees connected with the war and those that are remaining are criminals that are not covered by the by political agreements.

He said that Mr Biar is being held for inciting communities to fight each other, and Mr Wol — a retired army officer — is being detained by his department on insubordination charges.

But Amnesty International has been issuing reports about arbitrary arrests and torture, where the detainees are held for months or years without being charged and not allowed access to their families and lawyers.

Mr Ajak, the chairman of the South Sudanese Young Leaders Forum and founder and director of the Centre for Strategic Analyses and Research, was arrested in August at Juba International Airport while planning to travel to Aweil in Bahr-el-Ghazal.

The government issued a statement that his organisations have not been registered in South Sudan and that they would take him to court.

Whereabouts unknown

Mr Wol — a businessman and philanthropist — was arrested in May on charges of planning a coup, planning an assassination and having links with the rebels.

He is yet to be taken to trial and has not been heard from since he led a prisoners’ protest at the the National Security Service premises on October 7.

The Arusha-based Pan African Lawyers Union has since filed a Habeas Corpus — a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge — at the East African Court of Justice, after the government closed his KASS security firm and froze all his accounts.

“If the government says they have evidence against Kerbino, why are they not bringing him to court six months later?” asked Mr Oryema.

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