South Sudan’s government has banned Al Jazeera English staff from working in the country, press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday in a statement condemning the move.
The government’s Media Authority decided on 1 May “to suspend the activities of the Al-Jazeera English bureau in Juba until further notice”, the organisation, known by its French acronym RSF, said in a press release condemning the decision and issued on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May.
However, Elijah Alier Kuai, managing director of the Media Authority, denied the Qatari state broadcaster had been suspended saying there was simply “an administrative issue” but did not explain what he meant.
“Al Jazeera is not closed. It is only the English office where we have an administrative issue that we are discussing with the management of Al Jazeera and we will be resolving it soon,” he said.
Al Jazeera is one of a handful of international media outlets with bureaus in South Sudan.
RSF said the Media Authority staff are appointed by President Salva Kiir and that the decision followed a television news report aired last month covering the ongoing fighting between government and rebel forces.
That report from Kajo Keji, a rebel-held part of the country, accused government soldiers of attacking and killing civilians and showed rebel soldiers holding territory and preparing to fight government forces.
“RSF regards the closure of the Al Jazeera bureau in Juba as an attack on media pluralism and the freedom to inform,” the organisation said.
South Sudan has fallen 30 places in successive annual World Press Freedom reports, published by RSF, since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013 and is now ranked 145th out of 180 countries.
South Sudanese journalists are frequently harassed, intimidated, beaten or abducted, and sometimes killed. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks South Sudan as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to holding the killers of journalists to account.
In recent months South Sudan’s government has blocked the issuing of visas to many foreign reporters and expelled others.