Clara Zid, October 2020
The government of South Sudan, world’s youngest country, is in a profound crisis according to South Sudanese journalist Tor Madira: “Government officials kill at will, embezzle public funds at will, do whatever is good for them and get away with it”. Journalism is one of the most risky sectors in the country, he says: “Sometimes people are arrested for ‘liking’ Facebook posts that criticize the government, especially the president”. Trending news in South Sudan is all about political corruption and malpractice by most senior government officials. “Corruption in South Sudan is something known”, Tor says.
Tor used to write for several South Sudanese media until he and one of his brothers launched Sudans Post in December 2019. “We took the decision to establish an online media instead of a print newspaper and operate from abroad because of the risk associated with the publication inside South Sudan”. Sudans Post covers South Sudan, Sudan and East Africa.
The South Sudanese authorities, especially the National Security Services (NSS), have pursued Tor Madira several times, requesting him to remove content, revealing his identity and attempting to meet him in person.
In 2018, Tor was attacked after publishing an article on Sudan Tribune and Al Masry al Youm that Halayeb Triangle, a disputed Red Sea region, belongs to Egypt given the 1899 condominium agreement. “The attackers came from the Sudanese embassy in Cairo”, he says. Despite several attempts to bring the case before the police, Tor dropped the case because “it takes a lot to be protected in Egypt”, where he currently resides.
In January 2019, Tor published an opinion article on Radio Tamazuj, and an interview with Voice of America later the same month. At the time, Tor was working for Nyamilepedia as the editor-in-chief: “I was called by someone who said he had an envelope for me. Eventually, after several minutes of talk, the caller said he was an NSS agent and said he would give me the benefit to contact Radio Tamazuj, so that the article was removed. He never contacted me again and I never contacted Radio Tamazuj to remove the content”.
And now, as Executive Director and Editor-in-chief of Sudans Post, the persecution continues. After publishing a series of articles in June 2020, related to influential South Sudanese businesswoman Achai Wiir, Tor started to receive threats from the NSS. First they intimidated the hosting provider of Sudans Post, to shut down the company if the content was not removed immediately. A few days later, Tor received two phone calls demanding to identify the author of the article and the immediate removal of the content. The NSS threatened the editor with physical detention within 72 hours, and tried to lure him into a face-to-face meeting. As a result of not complying with the NSS’s requests, the website of Sudans Post became blocked in South Sudan on June 12th.
It was at the time of the blocking Sudans Post came in contact with Qurium. The site was quickly migrated to Qurium’s secure hosting provider (Virtualroad.org) to ease the pressure on the local hosting provider of Sudans Post. Tor says “since moving Sudans Post to Qurium, we have experienced a kind of security that we never had since the establishment of the website, we appreciate that a lot”.
Most of the South Sudanese private media have links to the government in one way or another, says Tor. He continues, “most of the private outlets covering South Sudan from abroad are controlled by foreign organizations, that sometimes have links to American lobbyists paid by the government in South Sudan“. Some websites funded by foreign organizations, the editor said, remove or even don’t publish contents related to the December 2013 massacre, which triggered the deadly civil war, on the pretext that they incite violence.
To avoid a similar situation, Tor decided to work independently and in an honest and accountable manner without any external interference, neither from foreign organizations, nor the warring parties in South Sudan.
Tor works from Cairo where he resides as a United Nations (UN) refugee since January 2014. He recalls: “A month earlier, the civil war in South Sudan had broken out in Juba, where I was at the time. Between December 15, and December 18, thousands of members of Nuer civilians were massacred by the government, based on their ethnicity. I am one of a few survivors who fled to the protection of a UN protection of civilian site”.
“Citizens always have a role to play in a society and I choose to take the role of journalism despite the risk because I believe that every effort in the interest of the society and the innocent citizen has what it takes to achieve”
While living in Egypt, a country where press freedom is at a crossroad, Tor says he maintains a low profile: “We have not mentioned the location of Sudans Post’s office anywhere on the Internet and the website is not registered, because the government of Egypt will not allow any media opposed to South Sudan”.
The rest of the Sudans Post team is based in South Sudan and Sudan. “For the sake of credibility, we have decided to publish the names of the authors of the reports we publish, but we do not publish the complete names as they appear on official personal identifications, to reduce their personal risk. For example, my name appears as “Tor Madira” where as my legal name includes more names, he explains.
Tor decided to take the risky path to pursue journalism for the desire to resolve the conflict in his country, as a civic responsibility: “Citizens always have a role to play in a society and I choose to take the role of journalism despite the risk because I believe that every effort in the interest of the society and the innocent citizen has what it takes to achieve”.