Six journalists have been detained by South Sudan security forces over viral footage of the country’s president apparently urinating on himself, a press freedom watchdog has reported.
The clip, filmed during an official event, shows South Sudanese leader Salva Kiir standing for the national anthem, initially oblivious as a stain spreads on his trousers and a pool forms at his feet. The camera abruptly turns away after Kiir and his entourage appear to notice what is happening.
On Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that six journalists for the state-run South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) had been detained by the country’s National Security Service under suspicion of an unauthorised release of the footage.
The CPJ, citing media reports and people who spoke on condition of anonymity, named the detainees as control room director Joval Tombe, camera operator and technician Victor Lado, camera operators Joseph Oliver and Jacob Benjamin, camera operator and technician Mustafa Osman, and control room technician Cherbek Ruben.
Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, said the arrests match a “pattern of security personnel resorting to arbitrary detention whenever officials deem coverage unfavourable”.
“Authorities should unconditionally release these six SSBC employees and ensure that they can work without further intimidation or threat of arrest,” Mumo said.
The Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) – which had initially denied reports that journalists had been arrested over the video – called for a “speedy conclusion” to the investigation.
“If there is a prima facie case of professional misconduct or offence then let authorities expedite an administrative or legal process to address the issue in a fair, transparent [sic] and in accordance with the law,” the union added.
Citing an anonymous state television employee, independent news website Sudans Post reported police had been searching for the journalist who filmed Kiir’s accident. An SSBC official told independent outlet Radio Tamazuj the broadcaster did not air the footage.
The video was widely shared on social media last month, prompting questions over the 71-year-old president’s state of health and fitness to govern a nation grappling with conflict, starvation and climate change. But it also sparked fierce debate over the ethics of posting such footage on social media and allegations of lack of empathy towards an elder.
Kiir has ruled over South Sudan since its independence in 2011, a presidency marred by fighting with a splinter group of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – resulting in hundreds of thousands dead and giving rise to sexual violence, crackdowns on opposition and political corruption.
No elections have been held in the country since Kiir took power, though a vote is scheduled for 2024.