South Sudan, June, 13th, 2017 (RSF). The South Sudanese government announced that it is refusing to issue or renew visas for 20 foreign journalists because their coverage is regarded as overly critical. The NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this decision.

The decision to ban the 20 journalists from working or continuing to work in South Sudan was revealed during an interview by Elijah Alier, the head of the country’s Media Authority, for Juba-based Eye Radio on 7 June.

Alier accused the journalists of writing “unsubstantiated and unrealistic” stories that “insulted or degraded South Sudan and its people.” The Media Authority thinks they would contribute to a cycle of violence that has fuelled a civil war in South Sudan since December 2013.

“We will restore the country’s image by regulating what comes out of the media because it is the same media being used to portray the country’s image negatively,” Alier said during the interview for Eye Radio, in which he did not name the journalists or media outlets concerned by the ban.

This vague and alarming statement is clearly aimed at deterring both foreign and South Sudanese journalists from criticizing South Sudan in their reporting, said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. Given what we know about the pressure on South Sudanese journalists, it is clear that this ban on foreign journalists is aimed at creating a blackout on what is happening within the country. We call on the South Sudanese authorities to lift this ban. A bad situation doesn’t go away just because you refuse to look at it head-on.”

The Nairobi-based Foreign Correspondents Association of East Africa (FCAEA) said the banned journalists come from around ten countries, that they work for both print and broadcast media, and that the South Sudanese authorities refused to issue or renew their accreditation in the past six months.

Foreign media and journalists continue to operate in Juba but with great difficulty. As RSF reported at the time, the Media Authority suspended the activities of the Al-Jazeera bureau in Juba on 1 May until further notice after a series of reports about the ongoing clashes between government forces and rebel troops. US journalist Justin Lynch, one of the last foreign reporters based in the country, was arrested and expelled last December.

Reporting is even harder for South Sudanese journalists, who have been singled out by the authorities since the start of the civil war. Several have been arrested, tortured appallingly and left for dead. The media censor themselves and the few that try to provide independent reporting are exposed to reprisals. Many journalists have had to shut down media outlets or flee the country.