South Sudan: Arbitrary arrests, torture of detainees despite repeated promises

4 September 2018, 12:40 UTC

South Sudanese authorities have arbitrarily arrested, detained, tortured and ill-treated people to the point of death, despite repeated promises to release detainees, said a new Amnesty International briefing out today.

“People in South Sudan have been arrested for their political and ethnic affiliations and are then subjected to unimaginable suffering – sometimes leading to death – at the hands of the government’s security forces,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

People in South Sudan have been arrested for their political and ethnic affiliations and are then subjected to unimaginable suffering – sometimes leading to death – at the hands of the government’s security forces.

Between February and July 2017, four men – Mike Tyson, Alison Mogga Tadeo, Richard Otti and Andria Baambe – died in detention due to harsh conditions and inadequate medical care. The four, who were arrested in 2014, were all held without charge, for alleged links to the opposition. Amnesty International has previously documented the deaths of at least 20 people in detention between February 2014 and December 2016.
In the latest briefing titled “Broken Promises”, former detainees told Amnesty International that they were made to drink water from the toilet and defecate and urinate in front of each other. They also said they were rarely allowed out of their cells for sunlight or exercise. They were also not allowed to talk to each other. Some detainees were fed only once a day and, in more extreme cases, just a few times a week.

Between February and July 2017, four men – Mike Tyson, Alison Mogga Tadeo, Richard Otti and Andria Baambe – died in detention due to harsh conditions and inadequate medical care.

Moses (not his real name), 32, was arrested in July 2014 and held at various National Security Services (NSS) detention facilities in Juba, including at the headquarters in Jebel. He was released almost three years later, with no charges ever being filed against him. “Since I was arrested, I was tortured by NSS officers and I was accused of mobilizing youth. They held me down at gunpoint and then started to beat me on my side using sticks and metal poles while others were kicking me,” he told Amnesty International.

Joseph (not his real name), 49, was arrested in January 2015 and held at the NSS headquarters for two years, accused of communicating with members of the armed opposition. He was detained without charge and denied access to a lawyer and family members.

“If they thought you had misbehaved, they would beat you. If the soldiers come in drunk, they would beat you. The torturing there is beyond (words). Some people are tortured even with electricity. People are beaten to the point of collapsing,” he told Amnesty International.

The ex-detainees said they were also denied access to their families and lawyers. In some cases, the authorities seemed to deliberately make it difficult for their lawyers and families to find them, by transferring them from one detention facility to another. 

On 10 March 2017, President Salva Kiir pledged to release political detainees, before
subsequently releasing about 30 of them in August the same year. He later reiterated his intention to free political detainees in December 2017 during the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, and in June 2018 when signing the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement between Parties of the Conflict of South Sudan.
Arbitrarily arrested, shuffled between detention centres, tortured and ill-treated but no one held to account.

Yet arbitrary arrest and detention of real or perceived opponents and dissidents by the NSS continues, the latest high-profile victim being Dr Peter Biar Ajak, a prominent South Sudanese academic and activist who was arrested at Juba International Airport on 28 July 2018. He has been held at NSS headquarters in Juba since.

“It is extremely unconscionable that South Sudanese authorities arrest, torture and ill-treat people in total disregard for their human rights. The government must end these arbitrary detentions by immediately releasing the detainees or charging them with internationally recognizable offenses. It must also hold to account all those responsible for these grave human rights violations and deaths in detention,” said Seif Magango.