Juba, South Sudan — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called for an immediate investigation into the death of freelance journalist Christopher Allen who was killed while covering intense fighting between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) and the rebel group known as the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO) over the weekend.
Allen, a freelance journalist, who had been embedded with the SPLA-IO rebel forces for two weeks was camped out within the rebel barracks near Kaya along the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when, according to rebel spokespersons, SPLA government forces attacked the rebel position.
During the intense fire-fight, Allen who carried a camera and wore a jacket with the word “PRESS” in large lettering was targeted by SPLA and was receiving what was reported as withering gunfire and was shot in the head. In a interview with Associated Press SPLA-IO spokesperson, William Gatjiath Deng said that Allen “was [deliberately] targeted and killed by the government forces for photographing the fight.”
19 other rebels were also killed in the ensuing gun battle, two of which were killed while attempting to recover Allen’s body.
The SPLA and the South Sudan government are vehemently denying that their forces deliberately targeted Allen and instead countered with the accusation that the SPLA-IO attacked their base and that Allen himself was directly involved with the assault along with initially denying that Allen was a journalist and identified him as a “white rebel.”
Then the U.S. embassy in South Sudan along with the U.S. State Department confirmed that an American journalist was in fact killed near Kaya. South Sudan government officials then changed their stance on Allen being a rebel and then declared that Allen had “illegally gained entry” into South Sudan and therefore they could not be held accountable for Allen’s death. SPLA spokesperson, Lul Rual Koang in an interview with Reuters warned other journalists against, “associating with armed rebel elements” adding that, “anybody who comes attacking us with hostile forces will meet his fate.”
Amid fears that the United States would decrease its support to South Sudan in the wake of Allen’s death they ‘doubled down’ on their denial of killing the American journalist with South Sudan government spokesperson, Riak Gok Majok saying in an interview with the Sudan Times that:
we were happy that with political change in the USA we thought a neutral approach in resolving South Sudan conflict would be initiated. I will never believe even at a gun point that Mr. Christopher and his colleagues are mere journalists, no, they are not. It is high time we sit around the table to genuinely seek a practical solution to our problems.”
Allen, who has reported for various news agencies such as al-Jazeera and VICE, was no stranger to war zones and conflict reporting. Allen was one of the few freelance journalists to begin embedding with elements of the Ukrainian AZOV Special Operations Regiment fighting against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region during the 2014 Ukraine revolution. Allen who financed his own travel and often worked on a shoe-string budget shifted his focus from Ukraine to the civil war-torn powder keg of South Sudan earlier this year as fighting between the two factions once again began to intensify.
SOFREP contributor and former British Army Reconnaissance Scout “Jay” first met Allen during his time volunteering with the Ukrainian 3035 Special Operations Regiment (AZOV) and they became quick friends.
He [Allen] was embedded with us for about three years, took some pictures of us and wrote about us. He was my friend, mate,” Jay said. Jay also stated that he spoke with Allen just one day prior to his death. “We spoke about Ukraine and potential rebel connections in South Sudan. This is surreal, mate. He was a good guy, I’m just shocked right now.”
CPJ is now calling for the United States along with the international community to begin a robust independent investigation into the killing of Allen as well as South Sudan’s polices on the safety of journalists within the war-torn portions of the country.
Feature image courtesy of: The War Zone Freelance Project Facebook page.