Taban Lo Liyong. Photo credit: Taste of South Sudan.

The prominent South Sudanese academic and writer Taban Lo Liyong has been suspended without pay by the University of Juba, where he is a professor of literature, after he published an open letter to the US president Donald Trump’s emissary to the country, Tibor P. Nagy, addressing the problem of states and boundaries and urging intervention given the betrayal of the hopes of the “99% South Sudanese who voted in 2011 for Separation from Sudan.” The University of Juba and its vice chancellor Professor John Akech said that Liyong’s letter “has gone over the right of self-expression and amounts to incitement of ethnic hatred,” and that it is “bringing the name of the university into disrepute.”

Human Rights Watch‘s Nyagoah Tut Pur has described the suspension as “emblematic of the government’s repression of basic freedom of expression, where any form of dissent or criticism of government policy is dangerous.” She notes that Liyong is not the first to endure similar prosecution at the University. In October 2015, the Economics professor Luka Biong was suspended after organizing a public conference on the addition of new states by President Kiir, and has since gone into exile following threats by the National Security Service (NSS). Later that year, another professor, Leonzio Angole Onek, was picked up by the NSS, accused of supporting rebels, and held in solitary confinement for five months, without charges. In January 2017, two academic staff were also arrested and detained by the NSS for organizing staff protests to force better salaries.

“I can confirm that I received the suspension letter,” Professor Lo Liyong, who is awaiting the decision of the university investigation committee, told Radio Tamazuj. “I don’t know why they suspended me, because I did nothing wrong which would let them to suspend me apart from discussing national issues.”

The VC Professor Akech is adamant. “For somebody who is a professor at the university who is supposed to be a teacher for us, it looks like he is compromising his position as a neutral person. In the opinion article, Professor Lo Liyong appeared like someone who belongs to a certain category, so those are the reasons for his suspension,” he said. “The committee will investigate the matter and if it finds out that the article doesn’t contradict with the values of the university, then it is the decision of the committee, and he may be acquitted.”

In the past few years, universities in South Sudan have suppressed critical voices, with NSS agents said to pose as students to force censorship. This, academics say, has “a corrosive effect on research and publication.”

The Center for African Cultural Excellence (CACE), which runs Writivism, has condemned the development.

The University of Juba then gave “approval” for Professor Lo Liyong to travel to Sudan for checkup.