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Exclusive:  Juba Monitor’s ownership wrangle unravelled   

On April 12, 2022, a Juba-based court ordered Juba Monitor, one of the biggest daily English newspapers in South Sudan to stop its operation. The verdict left the media fraternity dumbfounded as there was little known legal proceeding.

Behind the scenes, the ownership wrangles that many say dragged on for years between the family of the late Alfred Taban – a shareholder of the paper, and the management, had advanced to the legal jurisdiction. A Kator Court called for a halt to the production of the paper.

In an editorial published by Juba Monitor on Thursday, April 14 2022, after the court order, the paper’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Peter Morbe, called the verdict an injustice.

Morber argues in the article that the Late Alfred Taban was just one of the ten shareholders within the organization adding that one or two shareholders cannot call for the closure of the paper according to the Article of Association.

Juba Echo understands that Juba Monitor produced two editions in defiance of the legal order, which prompted the arrest of the Editor-in-Chief, Anna Nimiriano on Tuesday 19/04/2022.

“I was arrested in the office. I was doing my work in the office and I was surprised to see the police with the family members of the late Alfred Taban plus the representative of the family who is not the legitimate person representing the heirs of the late Alfred Taban,” she told Juba Echo exclusively.

Nimiriano said she was arrested and taken to the police station while any attempts to intervene from her lawyer were thwarted.

“They came and arrested me and took me and when my lawyer asked them why they were taking the case like that, they said we were going to resolve the issue from the office. When we reached Malaika Police Station, I saw a car marked Juba prisons come and a police officer ordered me to enter the car,” Juba Monitor’s Editor-in-Chief explained.

“When we arrived at the Juba Central Prisons, they handed me to the administration of the prison and I was put in without any hearing in the court for both sides of the company and the family of the late Alfred Taban. But it was an order from the judge that I should be put in,” Nimiriano said.

Nimiriano was released on Friday after spending three days behind bars.  She told Juba Echo after her release that Juba Monitor is owned by 10 shareholders not just one person as the family perceives.

“Juba Monitor is owned by 10 shareholders and every shareholder has a percentage from the shares of the business,” she told Juba Echo.

Nimiriano said the legitimate heir of the shares of the late Alfred Taban is Kiden Alfred Taban. But she said the sister of the late Alfred Taban’s wife only identified as Diana has positioned herself into the wrangles as a family representative of the case.

The Editor-in-Chief also revealed that the person with the largest share at Juba Monitor owns 30 per cent of the total shares while Alfred Taban has 13 per cent to his name.

According to Nimiriano, two against eight shareholders have backed a decision to liquidate the newspaper business. However, this, the management says, will be in contravention of the Article of Association.

Juba Echo also established that Diana, the family representative of late Alfred Taban, had allegedly demanded the liquidation of the newspaper business citing dereliction and exclusion by the management.

When contacted for comments, Eva Alfred Taban, the daughter and supposed family representative of the late, declined to speak.

“I can’t speak to you on the ongoing court case, and I can’t speak on it. But I can share with you our family lawyer’s number, maybe he can assist you with more information,” she said.

Juba Echo made several phone calls to the family lawyer Becu Pitia, but all went unanswered, making their current position on the matter unclear.

Media fraternity and civil society weighed in

While the status of the ownership of Juba Monitor is yet to be decided in a court of law, the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) and the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) have raised concerns over the closure of the newspaper.

The two institutions say the independent newspaper serves the largest public in South Sudan including the employment of dozens of journalists across the country, and that it should remain open as the two parties pursue the case in court. 

UJOSS President Oyet Patrick Charles appealed for the reopening of the paper whose closure has created a state of joblessness for scribes attached to Grand Africa Media Services publication.

“We are very happy with the release of Anna Nimiriano and the next thing should be the reopening of Juba Monitor because as UJOSS we are concerned that journalists who work at Juba Monitor are now having no job and that means they don’t have income,” Oyet Patrick Charles said in an interview with Juba Echo.

Oyet also highlighted circumstances under which a paper or company can be closed saying the case of Juba Monitor did not follow due process leading to the halt of its operation.

“We do not see the reason as to why Juba Monitor should be closed because if a company is to be liquidated and winding up is to take place, there are some grounds and number one could be if shareholders agree to do so, number two could be if the creditors of the company agree to do so or if a court sees it wise to do so.

“But in this case, we have not even seen the ruling from the court which says that we have reached a point of liquidation and we’re winding up. And Juba Monitor is serving the interest of the public, the public wants to have access to information which they can get through Juba Monitor and so the paper should remain open as the case can be ongoing in court,” he added.

CEPO Executive Director, Mr Edmund Yakani said the decision by the court to arrest Anna Namiriana was unlawful and that the judge in charge of the case should go back to the previous arbitration that was made by the court.

“We are all aware that Anna’s detention was not legally correct, it is unlawful detention because she sits as Editor of Juba Monitor and we feel that any conflict among the leadership or ownership of Juba Monitor shouldn’t involve the staff but should involve the shareholders.  I welcome her release, but this gives me the opportunity to question our judiciary in terms of decision making because the narrative we have is different from the actual situation that is going on,” Edmund Yakani said.

“I would urge on Monday if there will be a review of the court case, I will urge the judge in charge of the court to go back to the arbitration that was made before by any legal entity of which the Ministry of Justice is aware,” Yakani added.

Mary Ajith Goch, the former AMDISS Chairperson who is now the SSBC Chairperson of the Board of Directors said in an interview with Juba Echo that the legacy of Alferd Taban and Juba Monitor and Khartoum Monitor newspapers should be respected.

“Since this issue is already in court, all we would want to see is a fair judgement at the end of the day. And that Juba Monitor and the GAMCO company should remain focused on its vision and mission because those benefit all of us as it keeps the legacy of the late Alfred Taban, it keeps the legacy of the media because most of the newspapers that were opened at the same time with Juba Monitor are not operational today because they were shut down by the government. So, there should be no one with the intention that Juba Monitor should not appear in the market because it is a memory to most of us in the media,” she said.

“We will follow up this case in the court and I would also appeal for our calmness in this process that nobody should take this case personally because it touches the hearts of all of us who know the history of Juba Monitor and that history of Juba Monitor includes Anna because she has been there from Khartoum Monitor to Juba Monitor, and the same with the family of Alfred because the family was sitting there as well and so they are part of the history of Juba Monitor,” added Mary Ajith.

As of April 25, 2022, Juba Monitor has remained closed. A court hearing scheduled for 25th April has been postponed. However, Nimiriano’s lawyer Lasarus Yugu said the hearing could be rescheduled to any day this week.

“No, no this court will not take place today because the files are still in the court of appeal. Probably maybe this week and you guys (journalists) will be informed,” he said. 

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