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Cablegate: Press/Information Freedom Issues at the Fore

VZCZCXRO9354
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1781 2051308
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 241308Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3873
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 001781

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SU
SUBJECT: PRESS/INFORMATION FREEDOM ISSUES AT THE FORE

1. (SBU) Summary: Authorities from two states in the South of Sudan
have moved against press outlets and the representative of a NGO for
disseminating information that the authorities judged inimical to
their interests. The UN and the EU have engaged on two of these
cases, and we stand ready to discuss the ramifications with the
Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). End summary.

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Policing the Airwaves
---------------------

2. (SBU) UNMIS has reported that the Security Service of Central
Equatoria State (CES) has requested tapes of a program aired on UN
radio and ordered UN officials to come to the headquarters of the
Security Service. The proximate cause of the row was the "Vox Pop"
segment of the show, public sound bites on questions of general
interest. The issue of the day in question was whether the day of
John Garang's death should become a holiday in the South. Most of
those interviewed at random said yes; a few said no, and several
said that it should be celebrated as a memorial for all Sudanese who
died during the conflict.

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3. (SBU) The CES approached UN radio personnel and requested that
they surrender a tape of the show to the Security Service. The UN
does not know if CES is interested in what the UN asked or who spoke
out against the holiday. The UN notes that the latter would be
pointless, since none of those interviewed were identified by name,
but on principle the UN has said they will not release tapes to
security officials. UN Head of Office for South Sudan James Ellery
told UN radio that he would deal with the issue. When CES called UN
personnel to its offices, Ellery replied that they could come to
call upon him at his office, but no UN personnel would go to the
Security Service. He has referred the issue to New York as well.

4. (SBU) In an unrelated incident, CES has shut down independent
Radio Liberty after they too refused a summons by the Security
Services. The CES authorities cited failure by the radio station to
obtain proper licenses, but the station manager believes that this
was an issue over comments made on the air that the CES did not
like. Radio Liberty does not yet know exactly what comment might
have been the root cause.

----------------------------------------
See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil
----------------------------------------

5. (SBU) A third case, potentially more serious, involves a NGO
employee who has been arrested and detained for releasing an
Internet article critical of Join Integrated Units' performance
while searching for stolen cattle in East Equatoria State (EES). We
have seen a copy of the article, which is quite harsh and accuses
the Governor of EES State of bias and the JIUs of engaging in human
rights abuses, including rape and pillage. We cannot corroborate at
this time if the charges are true.

6. (SBU) The Executive Director of the NGO in question, Manna Sudan,
is a Sudanese national named Charles Loker. He was arrested in
Ikoto on July 4 and transferred to Torit two days later, where he
remains in detention. He has been accused, but not formally
charged, with defaming the government and waging war against the
state under article of the Sudanese Criminal Act of 1991. Loker has
not been granted access to a lawyer, and a UNMIS human rights
monitor who sought to visit him was reportedly denied access. The
EU, which funds Manna Sudan, has dispatched personnel from Khartoum
to meet with the GoSS on the case.

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Time to Weigh In
----------------

7. (SBU) COMMENT: The GoSS has done a commendable job in allowing a
nascent independent media to emerge. We do not think it would be
desirable to reverse this trend by allowing state officials to act
arbitrarily against the free flow of information - flawed or not -
that it does not find to its liking. We are prepared to meet with
GoSS Information Minister Kwaje at first opportunity to suggest that
the litmus test of information should not be the approval of state
officials and that the GoSS should be closely involved with this
important function of constructing a more democratic society. END
COMMENT.

STEINFELD

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