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2016 Tutu Fellow sentenced for speaking out against the government


2016 Tutu Fellow Peter Biar Ajak had his day in court today in Juba, South Sudan, after being detained for almost a year.  He was arrested on 28 July 2018, allegedly for treason.  However, the treason charges were thrown out by a court in April.

In court today, he was sentenced to two years for allegedly disturbing the peace and violence for giving interviews to foreign media that were critical of the government.  His lawyer is contesting the sentence as freedom of speech is constitutionally protected in South Sudan. His term was backdated to the day he was detained, so he still faces a year in prison for his peace activism.

His lawyer criticised both the verdict and the way in which Peter had been brought to trial, saying the prosecution had provided no evidence to support the sentence. In an indictment of the expectations around the Rule of Law in the country at the moment, Peter's wife, Nyathon Hoth Mai said that she had been expecting worse.

Peter had been publicly critical of the way President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar approached peace talks to end the civil war. Oil-rich South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 under a peace agreement that ended decades of conflict. But it returned to civil war in 2013 because of differences between Kiir and Machar.  While the Tutu Fellow was jailed at the notorious Blue House, which is the headquarters of the National Security Service, prisoners revolted over conditions and asked for an end to their detention without trial.

Peter is a former child refugee who was educated at Harvard and Cambridge universities and worked at the World Bank before returning to South Sudan. After being the World Bank In-Country Economist in South Sudan, he founded the Juba-based Centre for Strategic Analyses and Research and was instrumental in the South Sudan Development Plan and several other economic development plans.  He has also been active in using wrestling, which is enormously popular in the country, to promote peace across tribal boundaries.

Today's trial was heard by three judges.

There is more in the local media on the case.

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Saturday, 15 August 2020

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