JUBA, Feb 22, 2011 (AFP) - South Sudan vowed to protect the rights of journalists in the soon to be independent nation, the information minister said on Tuesday, after an editor charged that his newspaper was raided.
Nhial Bol, editor of The Citizen, said armed men in plainclothes entered the compound where the English-language daily is printed waving pistols and shouting threats in the early hours of Sunday morning.
"They were security officials carrying pistols," said Bol. "I suspect this was done because I recently wrote an article in which I was very critical of the way the police are managed."
But the south’s information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, described the event as an "isolated incident."
"Freedom of expression is the basis and foundation of any media house here in southern Sudan," Benjamin told reporters.
However, activists warn that despite advancements in the south’s press freedom, more must be done to protect it in the future.
Journalists have long been waiting for a key media bill to be passed by the south's parliament to guarantee their rights under law.
South Sudan is due to gain full independence as Africa's newest nation on July 9, after southerners voted almost unanimously for secession in last month's landmark referendum.
Benjamin said the media law would be ratified before then.
"The law is waiting to go to parliament and I am sure it will be passed before July 9," he said.
The Citizen has the only newspaper printing press in the south, and began operations last month in a bid to circumvent strict censorship rules in north Sudan, where other southern newspapers are still printed.
In Khartoum, intelligence services have a grim reputation for visiting opposition and independent papers to demand that articles be removed -- with several journalists arrested and held in harsh prison conditions.
"We do not want the situation in the south to become like that of the north. We want the rights of journalists to be guaranteed in the south," said Bol, who formerly worked as an editor in Khartoum, and was himself jailed eight years ago for publishing articles deemed abusive to Islam.