Advocating for media defence and freedom of expression in South Sudan

By Nani Jansen[1]

Last week, I had the pleasure of delivering a training on freedom of expression for Albany Associates to a group of around 30 lawyers affiliated with the Center for Human Rights Lawyers in Juba, South Sudan. It was my first time there; in spite of having worked extensively across the continent over the past years, I had never made it to South Sudan before.

Albany is currently working with Internews Network in South Sudan towards promoting a freer and open media environment in the country through improving the normative-legal-regulatory conditions and supporting media institutions. Activities on the ground have included strengthening media industry cooperation and association building with South Sudanese civil society to advance common media interests. Albany Associates was instrumental in helping set up the National Editor’s Forum in the country, as well as in beginning work on an early response mechanism for journalists’ security and an analysis of the media laws. Albany Associates was also active in coordinating legal defense of journalists, and trained close to 200 journalists in collaboration with local partners the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) around ethics and media law.

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Group photo after the official opening of the Media Law Training by the presidential legal advisor: Molana Lawrence Korbandi.

22nd June 2016

The training took place over three days. After an opening ceremony, during which remarks were delivered by Presidential Legal Advisor Lawrence Kobani, Chairperson of AMDISS Alfred Taban, the Vice Chair of the Media Authority, and the Deputy Justice Minister, the first day focused on the fundamentals of freedom of expression: the importance of the right, key provisions in the African Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR, and permissible limitations to the right under the three-part test. Day two was entirely dedicated to defamation, and had half of the participants argue on behalf of a journalist criminally convicted for defamation and the other half representing the Respondent State on the basis on a fictional scenario. The three women participating in the training formed the panel of judges in this mini-moot court exercise. The third day covered a number of other thematic issues relevant to the context of South Sudan: protection of sources, national security and terrorism, hate speech, and the protection of the safety of journalists. All sessions were interactive rather than lecture-style, with a variety of questions for the group to discuss.

The participants were provided with the MLDI Training Manual on International and Comparative Media and Freedom of Expression Law, a copy of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ICCPR, and copies of the Media Authority Act, Right to Access to Information Act, and Broadcasting Corporation Act. These last materials in particular turned out to be crucial: during the sessions it became clear that many of the participants were unfamiliar with their national legislation on the topics covered, which is likely due to the South Sudanese government’s failure to gazette and distribute new legislation, including the media laws. Where possible, time was spent pointing the participants to the key national law provisions and familiarising them with their content and meaning. This appeared to clear up some long-standing questions for a number of the lawyers present.

The group was a wonderful one to work with. Active participation, which at times can be the main challenge for a trainer, was no problem whatsoever. The discussions were lively and often continued during the breaks. In addition to the substantive issues addressed in the training, the participants were keen on learning more about the procedure of seizing the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the East African Court of Justice. We discussed the ins and outs of litigating at these venues in general and the cases of Konaté v. Burkina Faso and Burundi Journalists’ Union v. Burundi, the first freedom of expression cases decided by these courts, in particular.

Feedback from the participants was positive: the anonymously filled out feedback forms all welcomed the training, with frequent requests for further training sessions, preferably for a week instead of a few days. Another request that came up during the group discussions was for someone to organise training for the judiciary and relevant government actors. Many participants felt that lack of familiarity with the relevant standards within those groups hampered proper adjudication of cases brought against the press.

I left Juba impressed with the hard work the group had done during the training and their positive attitude towards taking on more media defence work in their practice as lawyers. It will be important to provide further support in their efforts to do so.

For more information about our work in South Sudan, please contact Anna Staevska on anna@albanyassociates.com

 

[1] Nani Jansen is an Associate Tenant at Doughty Street Chambers and the former Legal Director of the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI).

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