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The death of Alfred Taban is like the burning of a Library

The Juba Monitor front page publishes a story about the late Alfred Taban Logune

By David Mono Danga

“I am a liar! I am a liar! I am a liar!” echoed Alfred Taban’s voice in my mind as soon as I learnt of my former boss’s untimely death on Saturday afternoon in Kampala, Uganda.

The adrenaline rush brought live Alfred’s voice as I recalled reading the article that recounted the veteran journalist’s torture in Khartoum, Sudan for his coverage of the Darfur genocide and especially, his coverage of a news conference by church leaders who were protesting against the cancellation of a service and the arrest of up to one hundred Christians in Khartoum, in April 2001.

He was detained for 5 days by the Khartoum authorities who forced him to chant, “I am a Liar” as they tortured him.

That was the very article that made me choose the Journalism profession 18 years ago. Just 11-years-old then I made up my mind to be like Alfred Taban, fighting for the rights of the minority groups, disadvantaged and the marginalized across the country.

Working for the British Broadcasting Corporation-BBC as a correspondent in Khartoum, Alfred had already had footprints in the South Sudanese’s souls with his sensational reports uncovering the rot of the then Sudan government.

When he moved South Sudan, after the southern Sudan region gained independence from Sudan in 2011, he changed the name of the paper from Khartoum Monitor, to Juba Monitor, which would become the country’s leading independent newspaper. The Juba Monitor newspaper is known for its independent news and editorial policy.

Alfred Taban is a brave man who always stood with journalists in the fight for the rights of the minority. His death his indeed like the burning of a library. He has gone with all the wisdom he had.

As seen from his responds after the Sudanese police forced him to stand for twelve hours chanting, “I am a liar, I am a liar” in Khartoum then, he has never for one second thought of giving up on the fight for righteousness.

For instance, in 2017 as a condition to join the National Dialogue, Hon. Taban negotiated the release of all 31 journalists held as political prisoners by the Government of South Sudan, including The UN Radio Journalist George Livio who has been in detention since 2014. Mr. Livio, a Radio Miraya reporter based in Wau, was released from detention without charges. All thanks to the 62-year-old’s endless efforts to protect journalists and human rights defenders.

Alfred Taban Logune (2nd right) during the Birthday May 26, 2018 Party of News Editor, Jale Richard (2nd left)

with Sports Editor David Mono Danga (R) and Senior Reporter Moses Gum (L)

 

Working for him was a guaranteed protection. Just like a baby that you would throw into the air and it would just smile act you knowing we that you will catch him/her.

It is that kind of trust that we (journalists) in South Sudan had in Alfred Taban. When the going got tough, we always kept going because of his encouraging words. He was a man of great wisdom. One who would spin the wheels make everyone roll along. The one who passed through the hard way, the only way all because there was a will that needed to be fulfilled without prejudice.

In 2016 he was imprisoned at the National Security Services headquarters, commonly known as The Blue House, on sedition charges. That imprisonment sparked an international outcry leading to his release.

He was arrested on July 16, 2016 by National Security Services agents, one day after the publication of an editorial article in which he had called for President Salva Kiir, and the former First Vice President, Riek Machar, to step down, criticizing them for their unsuccessful implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement.

 

I remember an article where The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, had urged the Government of South Sudan to immediately release Alfred Taban.

“It is crucial for a country seeking to establish peace and stability that it takes active steps to encourage freedom of expression for everyone,” the American expert had said referring to the then installed transitional Government.

“Any pressure against journalists based on the content of their reporting represents regressive steps that South Sudan cannot afford to take.”

Mr. Taban’s opinion piece came as a response to the violent clashes in Juba on 7 July, between government forces loyal to the president and those loyal to the first vice president, leaving hundreds of people killed. The incident was described as a clear breach of the peace agreement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, in the following statement.

“The arrest and detention of Mr. Taban are unlawful as they are directly linked to the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression,” the UN Special Rapporteur stressed.

Mr. Kaye urged South Sudanese authorities to halt the targeting of journalists and to uphold the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed to everyone under article 19* of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr Kaye’s statement has also been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

(*) Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Alfred Taban has achieved what most would not and what every journalist would wish to achieve.

In July 2005, Speaker of the British House of Commons Michael Martin presented the Speaker Abbot award to Alfred Taban, in recognition of his work exposing the slaughter in Darfur. This award is awarded to the journalist who has made the greatest contribution internationally to the “protection, promotion and perpetuation of parliamentary democracy”. In 2006, Taban was one of three recipients to be presented with the National Endowment for Democracy award by US President George W. Bush.

Mr. Alfred Taban’s life has imparted and installed, in us, the desire to fight for the rights of the minority by giving voices to the voiceless. He was a tutor, a teacher, father and a role model to every journalist who passed through his beloved hands.

I am proud and happy to be one of the many who have benefitted from his mentorship and vows to keep his legacy alive. May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.

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