South Sudan’s media regulator suspended all press associations in the country while they register for licences to operate, journalists said, a move raising concern about a possible crackdown on independent media.
The directive, handed to South Sudan’s three associations this week and seen by Reuters, gave them until November 7 to obtain operations licences or face permanent closure.
“We have applied, but do not know whether our application will be accepted or not,” said Mary Ajith, chairwoman of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan, a grouping of journalists.
“This is … harassment from the media authority that is being done to us.”
Officials from both government information and the National Communication Authority were not immediately available for comment.
Another journalist said the directive would give the National Communication Authority powers to “command every single activity with support from the national security agency”.
The move is the latest example of what rights activists say is an increasingly hostile and restrictive approach by government towards the press in the world’s youngest country.
In July, four news websites and blogs – including the Dutch-backed radio station and website Radio Tamazuj – were either blocked or had transmissions partially restricted.
Foreign correspondents also face difficulties in reporting from South Sudan, with at least 20 reporters denied entry by authorities early this year.
Since its establishment in 2015, journalists in South Sudan say the body has made it difficult to obtain permits to travel outside Juba on reporting trips. It also requires prior permission for filming, at a hefty cost.
South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, plunged into civil conflict in December 2013.