South Sudan: The UN’s deafening silence over its jailed journalist

George Livio of the UN’s Radio Miraya has been in jail with no charges for almost two years. Why has UNMISS never publicly called on the government to release him?

t’s a nightmare of any journalist: to be locked up without charge and with no end in sight.

But imprisoned reporters usually have hope in knowledge that, on the outside, their editors are working around the clock to ensure their safe release. Think, for example, of the campaign by Al Jazeera to free their three journalists arrested in Egypt in 2013.

[See: In-depth interview with Mohamed Fahmy: ‘I am free. Now let’s free the others.’]

Unfortunately for one jailed journalist in South Sudan, however, his employers appear to have all but abandoned him.

George Livio of the UN’s Radio Miraya has been locked up by South Sudan’s National Security Service since 22 August, 2014. There have been no charges announced against him, in contravention of South Sudanese law requiring detainees to be quickly released if not charged. Yet ever since Livio was arrested almost two years ago, his employer, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) which runs Radio Miraya, has never publicly called on the government to set him free. Not in a press release, nor radio broadcast. Not in a speech nor at a press conference. Not even at events organised by the UN to mark World Press Freedom Day earlier this year.

“The UN has not done anything about George Livio,” says Edmund Yakani, a civil rights activist in Juba who has publicly lobbied for Livio’s freedom. “They are just quiet for the last two years.”

Yakani knows about getting journalists out of prison. When reports emerged that detainees were being killed in the town of Yambio, Yakani’s quick actions led to the release of a radio journalist from a National Security prison in just a few days.

By contrast, after Livio was detained, it took UNMISS nearly a month to even publicly confirm his arrest.

“From day one they have not spoken out,” says Yakani. “Why is UNMISS scared? The UN has to answer some questions, because he was an employee of the UN.”

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by Jason Patinkin

Photo Credits: UNMISS