S Sudan media 'under attack'
Juba - Southern Sudanese journalists are facing increasing intimidation as the security services clamp down on reporters ahead of landmark elections in April, a media rights watchdog warned on Friday.
The southern-based Agency for Independent Media (AIM) said it recorded several "disturbing reports" of the harassment of journalists across the autonomous south in 2010, including arrests and violence.
"South Sudan's media is under attack," said David De Dau, head of AIM.
"Journalists have been arrested, harassed, intimidated, threatened, humiliated, molested, tortured and detained for no clear reason," he told reporters in the southern capital.
One journalist in Unity State was beaten after security forces grew angry at comments made by the public on a call-in show on a community radio station, Dau said.
Journalists were also arrested in the states of Jonglei and Eastern Equatoria, he added.
On Wednesday, security services briefly closed down two independent radio stations in Juba after they broadcast interviews with a campaign team for an independent candidate running for governor of Central Equatoria.
"Security men stormed into the building with guns, and they told me to close the radio," said Albino Tokwaro Fabiano, manager of the Liberty station.
The manager of the Roman Catholic-run Bakhita radio, which was also temporarily closed, was told "no politics" were to be broadcast.
"He (the security officer) said he would keep a close ear on Bakhita and that we should stick only to our religious programmes," wrote station manager Sister Cecilia Sierra Salcido, a Catholic nun, in a report.
The clampdown has affected independent and government media, Dau added.
Many fear restrictions could increase ahead of next month's elections, Sudan's first multi-party vote in 24 years.
Development of democracy
"We are expecting more intimidation and harassment," said Dau. A media law for the autonomous south has been drafted but its passing has been delayed by parliament, something that has infuriated many journalists.
"The harassment is not an organised move, but it is a rampant practice," Dau said.
"Journalists are not seen as key players in the development of democracy in the south, but are seen as spies or agents or parties opposed to the government."
South Sudan's ministry of information was not immediately available for comment.
All of south Sudan's political parties signed a code of conduct on Monday to ensure free and fair elections, which also committed them to protecting journalists' rights.
"Parties and their supporters shall respect the right of political comment during the elections and shall not harass, intimidate or threaten journalists," read the code signed by party leaders.
South Sudan was left in ruins by the civil war with the north during which about two million people were killed, in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology, resources and oil.