KENYA, Sep 10 – Respected South Sudan journalist Nhial Bol, who set up the country’s first independent newspaper printing press, has quit journalism after threats, reports said Thursday.
Bol, editor of The Citizen newspaper and television station, shut by security forces in early August, was among the most fervent supporters of South Sudan’s independence in 2011, and subsequently a fearless critic of the current 20-month old civil war.
“I suffered and endured everything because of the dream I had. And now, the dream is dead, and I choose to leave,” Bol told the Sudan Tribune, adding “my security and safety have been threatened.”
Seven journalists have been killed so far this year in South Sudan, including a reporter last month shot in an apparently targeted attack, days after President Salva Kiir publicly threatened to kill journalists who reported “against the country.”
Kiir’s spokesman has since said the comments were taken out of context.
“It was a difficult choice to make, but I have finally decided to quit journalism after my family and I have concluded that I should stop due to security and safety reasons,” Bol added.
A veteran, outspoken and independent reporter, Bol was repeatedly jailed by the government in Khartoum in north Sudan, before South Sudan broke away.
– ‘The dream is dead’ –
To bypass Khartoum’s strict censorship laws, he imported a printing press from Europe, with the first editions printed in celebration on January 9, 2011, to mark the referendum that paved the way for South Sudan’s full independence six months later.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
Both sides have accused each other of breaking the latest ceasefire signed on August 29.
In one of Bol’s last editorials, he wrote that “Kiir and Riek have no ability to stop this war,” likening the issues between the rivals to warlords in Somalia following the collapse of government there in 1991.
“Those who still remember… should conclude that Kiir and Riek will end up in that situation similar to that of Somalia,” Bol wrote.
International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks South Sudan as the 125th worst nation out of 180.
Rights groups have repeatedly warned that security forces have cracked down on journalists, suffocating debate on how to end a civil war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
Over two million people have fled their homes from a war marked by ethnic killings, gang rapes and forced recruitment of child soldiers.
Some 190,000 terrified civilians are sheltering inside UN bases.