South Sudan

The Release of South Sudan’s Political Detainees and the Prospects for Peace

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Jok Madut Jok, Abraham A. Awolich, and Nhial Tiitmamer | 28 April 2014

Publication Summary

After several months in detention, the government of South Sudan has decided to stay the charges of treason that were brought against four prominent South Sudanese politicians in relation to the government’s allegation that they had been part of a plot to overthrow the government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit. A total of eleven politicians were accused and arrested in December 2013. Of these, 7 were released on bail late January, with the remaining 4 set free on April 27th, 2014, a hundred and forty five days since they were arrested in December 2013. Some members of the public have called it a pardon while others have termed it dropping of charges. This is misleading because staying of a case is totally different from either a pardon or dropping of charges. So on what legal basis are they released before the trial could finish? What does it mean to stay a case? The government bases the release of the former detainees on section 25 of South Sudan’s Code of Criminal Procedure Act, 2008 which states: ‘‘The minister (of justice) may after completion of an investigation and at any stage of inquiry and before the finding in any trial, stay the criminal proceedings against any accused on reasonable grounds.’’

In announcing their release, President Kiir stated that his decision was brought on by two realities, namely the international pressure and his own reasoning that their release might increase the chances of a peaceful settlement for the on-going conflict, which pits his government and the rebel movement led by the ousted Vice President Riek Machar Teny. “Even if we were to find them guilty and we hang them, it would not serve our quest for peace…this way is better,” the President declared. The release of detainees has been one of the key demands made by the rebel movement as crucial to a peaceful dialogue.

The Sudd Institute joins the rest of South Sudanese to celebrate this decision, as it was only just and fair that these gentlemen were freed. The long incarceration of Pagan Amum Okiech, former Secretary General of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM), Oyai Deng Ajak, former Minister for National Security, Majak Agoot Atem, former Deputy Minister of Defense, and Ezekiel Lul Gatkuath, former head of the South Sudan Liaison Office in the United States, had weighed heavily on the conscience of the nation. The legality of their detention, the long period they had spent in jail before their trial begun and procedures followed, were questionable by standards of the laws of South Sudan and the international statutes. What is even more commendable is that the justice system has shown its ability to be transparent and independent, indeed a development we must all applaud and encourage as a trend that our country could promote.