President Salva Kiir has warned South Sudanese against spreading hate speech and exhibiting xenophobic behaviors following the confirmation of the third case of coronavirus in the country.
Xenophobic behavior is the exhibition of fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners while hate speech is a “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group.
Kiir’s warning came when announcing the third positive coronavirus case on Thursday, April 9, 2020.
The patient is a 28-year-old UN female staff who is one of the contacts of the first patient. All three patients are said to be the staff of the UN family in South Sudan.
The country reported its first four cases of coronavirus in the first two weeks of April – all UN staff members.
The first case was reported on Sunday, April 5, 2020.
In his address to the nation on Thursday, April 9, 2020, President Kiir said COVID-19 can be brought into the country by anybody including South Sudanese.
“ I must warn you that COVID-19 can be brought to South Sudan by anybody including South Sudanese. I, therefore, call upon you to exercise restraint and avoid hate speeches and xenophobic utterances against our guests and those who have come to provide services to us from different countries and organizations,” he said.
The patient had been in the country for five weeks before the onset of symptoms, which would have been an unusually long incubation period if they had been infected outside South Sudan.
Nevertheless, the news triggered headlines and social media posts blaming the UN for bringing COVID-19 to South Sudan.
Two of the news splash in leading newspapers simply said “Foreigner” and “UN Staff” plus Facebook messages threatened violent retaliation.
In response, the UN suspended all but essential movement of staff, and some other aid agencies followed suit.
For their part, the high-level task force on coronavirus has warned South Sudanese against xenophobic behaviors triggered after confirmation of COVID-19 cases in the country.
In its 17th meeting held in Juba, the committee on coronavirus said it would not tolerate hate speech and xenophobic reactions by South Sudanese.
“We urge our people to refrain from spreading hate speech and indulging in xenophobic activities,” Dr. Makur Koriom, the undersecretary at the ministry of health, told the press.
He said COVID-19 pandemic is a disease that has inflicted pain on humanity in all races and nationalities-either poor or rich.
“For that reason, targeting individuals of particular countries on the basis of being or on the assumption that the COVID-19 is their disease is unacceptable, and the government will not hesitate to punish those who engage in such activities,” Dr. Koriom warned.
Meanwhile, a civil society activist called on South Sudanese to use social media responsibly in order to create awareness on COVID-19.
Nelson James Kwaje, the program director for Defy Hate Now, told Eye Radio that those using social media platforms should use it responsibly to advocate citizens to follow directives by the world health organization and the ministry of health in combating COVID-19.
“I will advise the youth to use the platform to South Sudanese’s during this time of COVID-19 try to advocate the people to stay home, social distancing and washing hands and all the directives by the world health organization and the ministry of health and all these entities,” said Kwaje.
“Always check twice and use your platform responsibly and also create awareness about the dangers of COVID -19 and advocate for people to keep safe.”
According to the Screen of Rights organization, online incitement against the UN and NGO workers has reportedly increased since the confirmation of the first case.
Reech Malual who heads the organization says some social media users have come out calling for youth to attack United Nations premises and other non-governmental organizations in a claim that such entities have brought coronavirus into the country.
Mr. Malual condemned such behaviors and warned that the infectious disease destroys all humans “without segregation.”
“Spreading hatred and inciting against a group based on belonging will only frustrate our efforts in the fight against the deadly virus,” Malual said.
Also, internally displaced people at UN protection camps in Juba told Eye Radio yesterday that they were forcefully quarantined by the army over misinformation on COVID-19.
Article 29 of the 2013 Media Authority Act, labels hate speech punishable by a prison term of up to five years if established to be of serious damage.
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