JUBA, JULY 16, 2023 (SUDANS POST) – South Sudanese civil society activists, journalists, and members of parliament on Sunday were outraged after Sudans Post, an independent digital newspaper, came under cyberattack that saw its Facebook page and that of its editor-in-chief being hacked and deleted.
Sudans Post in a statement had said earlier in the day that it came under cyberattack, with hackers taking over the organization’s Facebook page and that of its editor-in-chief, before removing the pages from Facebook.
“This is to inform our readership that Sudans Post’s digital presence is yet again under attack. Sudans Post’s Facebook page has been hacked and apparently deleted by the cyber assailants,” it said, adding that it is the fourth time for the incident to happen and that it was “working with Access Now and Facebook to restore our control.”
In a recorded statement, President of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) Patrick Oyet Charles said the country’s emerging online media is under threat as cyberattacks have continued to increase since beginning of the year.
“This situation of hacking pages, deleting pages for news websites or news sites like Sudans Post is very concerning to us as journalists and also the fact that the online media also provides employment for so many journalists,” he said.
“It is really important that [the online media] continue to operate and also that some regulations are put in place to punish those who hack these pages, you know, deny information access to the public,” Oyet added.
‘OUTREAGIOUS ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY’
Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of local civil society watchdog Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), condemned and described the incident as an “outrageous attack on democracy” in a country that is preparing for its first election since independence.
“CEPO strongly condemns the continuous online attack on Sudans Post newspaper. This is so repressive against South Sudan media at a time when our country requires unrestricted political and civic space as we are heading for elections and a political process for peaceful political transition from violence to peace,” he said.
“This makes the continuous online attacks on Sudans Post and other media outlets, online and print, an outrageous attack on democracy and it is an act of silencing voices for claiming transparency, accountability, justice and citizens centered public good governance,” he added.
The activist stressed that “Sudans Post is playing a critical role in shaping accurate and reliable information flow between rights holders and duty bearers as a media platform. This year alone, the work of Sudans Post newspaper has been used in several policy reports as a reference for justification of facts.”
Bol Deng Bol, Chairperson of Jonglei Civil Society Network (JCSN) and Executive Director of civil society organization INTREPID South Sudan, condemned the attack and described it as a violation of media laws in South Sudan.
“This is a grave violation of the existing Media Laws in South Sudan and the citizens’ rights and freedoms to access information. It also indirectly circumvents the constitutionally protected freedom of Expression, Media, Association and Assembly,” he said.
“I condemn it and call on the Association for Media Development In South Sudan and Union of Journalists of South Sudan to independently investigate this act and put keen eyes on the Civic Space in the Country, henceforth,” he added.
The activist emphasized that “media is a major pillar of democracy and South Sudan, being an aspiring Country – apparently on a path to democratic transformation – ought to embrace its Media Houses; by PROTECTING and PROMOTING them” and urged the “ministry of information and broadcasting to show concern and respond to this incident as a core contributing factor to the perpetually shrinking civic space across the Country.”
“It is worth noting that, forced Media Censorship has been on an unprecedented increase this year and this is dangerous, considering the fact that South Sudan prepares to conduct General Elections in late 2024. This trend has not been widely noticed and if this remains constant, I am afraid, the first-ever election process may certainly NOT be free, fair, credible, and inclusive as access to information and right to convey the same is being curtailed and consequential constraint to the Freedom of Expression and Association – The indicators are clearly suggesting, otherwise,” he stressed.
‘SHOULD BE PUNISHED’
Hon. Juol Nhomngek, a member of South Sudan’s transitional parliament, said anyone tempering with media freedom should be punished, asserting such people are intentionally blocking citizens from accessing information in violation of the law.
“Anybody who is hacking websites of media houses that person is trying to create problems or to block citizens from having access to information. So, it must be condemned by all means so that those people should be dealt with according to the law because it is illegal to hack any website,” he said.
“It is only the government which [can] apply due process when they are trying to interfere with media houses, it must be done legally. But anybody is interfering with media houses through hacking or any other process which is not approved by court of law is illegal and that person should be punished,” he added.
Lawmaker Stephen Lual Ngor, a member of foreign relations committee and a media advocate, called for protection of online media, saying it is a mandate that “is at the heart of the work of the ministry of information and there are legal articles that penalize the perpetrators of hackers and electronic hacking with imprisonment and a fine, or with one of the two penalties.”