South Sudanese journalist Peter Moi was killed by unidentified gunmen Wednesday evening just days after an ominous threat was issued by President Salva Kiir against the nation’s press corps.
Moi, an employee for The New Nation newspaper, was shot twice through the back close to the paper’s offices. “Colleagues say it appeared to be a targeted attack, as the attackers did not take Moi’s money or cell phone,” VOA reported.
The attack comes just three days after Kiir warned South Sudanese journalists not to step out of line — and is a further hit for the deteriorating state of press freedom in the world’s newest country. Security agents have shut down two privately owned newspapers and a popular radio program earlier this month, according to BBC. Moi is at least the sixth journalist to be killed in South Sudan this year alone.
“If anybody among [journalists] does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day, one time. … Freedom of the press does not mean you work against the country,” Kiir said.
Kiir’s comments were widely condemned by rights groups. “Local journalists suspect Kiir has targeted the press for its ongoing efforts urging a peaceful solution — among other issues such as exposing government corruption and internal rifts within the ruling party,” Tom Rhodes, the East Africa Representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told ThinkProgress on Tuesday.
The circumstances and time lapse between those comments and Moi’s assassination will do no favors for Kiir. Secretary of State John Kerry called Kiir to discuss the incident and the State Department said the South Sudanese government must “expeditiously and thoroughly investigate this incident.”
Kiir was in Addis Ababa earlier this week for peace negotiations. South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war between Kiir’s Juba-based government and rebels led by former Vice President Riek Machar. While Machar signed the deal, Kiir tweeted that it was unacceptable. Kiir faces increasing pressure to put an end to the 20 month old civil war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.
Ateny Wek Ateny, a presidential spokesman, said that Kiir’s comments were taken out of context and would be clarified. But local critics are up in arms over what they see as Kiir’s complicity in the murder.
“I would appeal to the president to give a press statement against his words so that the people of the Republic of South Sudan will get convinced of what he has said because now we have already started losing journalists,” Oliver Modi, head of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS), told Radio Tamazuj.