South Sudan blogger and government critic killed

Reuters Middle East

* Journalists complain of harassment, detention

* Police say yet to establish motive for killing

JUBA, Dec 6 (Reuters) - A South Sudanese blogger and

government critic has been shot dead in his home, a week after

unknown men threatened to kill him unless he stopped writing,

his family said on Thursday.

Police confirmed that Diing Chan Awuol, who wrote online

opinion pieces for newspapers and blogs, was shot in the face on

Wednesday morning.

It was the first time a journalist has been killed in South

Sudan since it gained independence from the north in July last

year.

Journalists have frequently complained of harassment and

detention by the new nation's security services. Last year, the

authorities closed a newspaper after it criticized President

Salva Kiir for allowing his daughter to marry a foreigner.

In his last piece, published by the Paris-based Sudan

Tribune website, Awuol broached a sensitive subject by calling

on Kiir's government to foster better ties with its old foe

Sudan and refrain from supporting rebel groups there.

The Khartoum government says the south backs rebels in two

Sudan border states. The south denies this and South Sudanese

newspapers usually support that stance.

A week before his death, Awuol, who wrote under the pen-name

Isaiah Abraham, complained that unknown men were attempting to

silence him, his brother William Chan said.

"He said he had received threats by phone. (They said)

'either stop writing or we will get rid of you'," Chan told

Reuters.

Police spokesman James Monday said an investigation had

begun and police were yet to identify the shooter or establish a

motive. No property was stolen from Awuol's house, Monday added.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

called on the government to investigate.

"By getting to the bottom of this murder and bringing the

perpetrators to justice, authorities in South Sudan can

demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law and freedom of

expression," said the CJP's East Africa consultant, Tom Rhodes.

France-based Reporters Without Borders ranks South Sudan

111th out of 179th in its 2011-2012 press freedom index.

Rhodes said he feared press freedom was declining as the

country's economic situation worsens and a government still

unaccustomed to criticism was becoming more intolerant of it.

In January, South Sudan shut down oil production, the

lifeline of the young republic, after tensions escalated with

the north over pipeline fees.

The two countries later came close to war.

Negotiators from Sudan and South Sudan are meeting in

Khartoum this week to try to end a deadlock over how to improve

border security, a step both say is needed to resume oil exports

from the landlocked south via the north.

(Reporting by Hereward Holland; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Tom

Pfeiffer)

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