South Sudan Says Criticized Bill Vital for Nation’s Security

South Sudan’s government defended a new security bill, criticized by rights groups for granting sweeping powers of arrest and surveillance, saying it was in the best interests of the war-torn country.

The bill, passed by parliament on Oct. 8, gives the country’s National Security Service “virtually unfettered” authority to detain suspects, conduct searches and monitor communications, organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said yesterday in a statement. They urged President Salva Kiir to veto the bill, which needs his approval to become law.

Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth rejected the criticisms and said every country has the right to decide how best to manage its affairs. “Issues of security of the nation are not matters of jokes,” he said yesterday in an interview in the capital, Juba. “It’s not the right of anybody in this world to come and tell me that your security is like this or like this.”

The world’s newest nation is mired in a 10-month-old civil war which has left thousands of people dead and forced more than 1.8 million to flee their homes. The rights groups said that the security service, already accused of some of the worst violations of free speech since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, has increased media censorship and detained several journalists since the conflict erupted in December.

Concerns over the bill include that it doesn’t specify where the security service can detain people, potentially allowing secret detentions in places inaccessible to lawyers or family, according to the statement. The bill doesn’t stipulate basic due process rights and has no explicit guards against inhuman treatment or torture, the groups said.

‘Filling Loopholes’

Lueth said it was possible for the bill to be adjusted based on how the security service implements it.

“There is not any controversy -- it is a good law,” he said. “Let us wait for it to be operational and we will see where the loopholes are and they will be filled.”

A human rights group is “an organization comprised of individuals who write their opinions but they should not go as far as judging others’ laws,” Lueth said. “They should wait first, let the law be applied, and then they criticize on the application, not on the wording.”

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