PEN International joined Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and six other free expression and journalists’ organizations for two parallel vigils today outside the embassies of South Sudan in Washington, DC, and London marking two years since the killing of British-American freelance journalist Christopher Allen, and renewing calls for justice.
Just 26 years old and covering South Sudan’s brutal civil war at the time of his death, Allen was killed when fighting broke out between government and opposition forces during a rebel offensive on 26 August 2017. Since then, the South Sudanese government has refused to pursue accountability for his killing despite evidence that suggests Allen was targeted for taking photographs of the battle. The US and UK governments and the United Nations have also failed to provide his family with serious support or assistance.
Dozens of individuals from freedom of expression and human rights groups, members of the media, and the family of Christopher Allen gathered outside the embassies of South Sudan in Washington, DC, and London today to remember the fallen journalist’s life and work, and to renew calls for justice and accountability for his killing.
Participants held candles and posters calling for #JusticeforChris and read excerpts from Allen’s writing and interviews. In Washington DC, Allen’s parents John Allen and Joyce Krajian called on South Sudan to conduct an impartial investigation, and for the US government to take action if South Sudan continues to fail to comply with its duties under international law. Afterward, representatives of RSF and the Allens were granted an impromptu meeting with South Sudanese Ambassador to the US, Phillip Jada Natana, who expressed his condolences and agreed to engage on this issue and push forward an investigation. In London, Allen’s cousin Jeremy Bliss urged the US and UK governments to step into the gap left by South Sudan’s inaction, and ensure an investigation takes place.
In addition to RSF, the vigils were supported by Amnesty International USA, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Frontline Freelance Register, Index on Censorship, PEN America, PEN International, and the Rory Peck Trust.
Comments from supporting organizations:
“Two years is far too long for Chris Allen’s family to be left lacking even the most basic answers about what happened, at a time when they are grieving such a horrific loss. Two years is also far too long for this shameful lack of support from the UK and US governments to have continued. Today we gather not only to remember Chris and to renew calls for justice, but also to demand an end to this inaction by the very institutions that are meant to provide support and help achieve accountability for this heinous crime,” said Rebecca Vincent, RSF UK Bureau Director.
“It has been two years to this day that Chris Allen was killed while reporting on the civil war in South Sudan. We are outraged that two years later there has been no inquiry into his death and that Chris’s family is forced to fight for justice for their son. The South Sudanese government must investigate this crime as a matter of international law, and we call on the US and UK governments to press South Sudan to comply with their obligation,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau.
“There is an urgent need for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Christopher Allen while he was reporting in South Sudan. The Committee to Protect Journalists stands with the Allen family in their demand that the South Sudanese government holds accountable those responsible for his death,” said Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"The UK government made media freedom its major foreign office campaign of this year. We urge the UK and US to help Christopher Allen's family in securing justice and accountability for his killing. Failure to punish those responsible for the killings of journalists emboldens those who use violence to suppress the media,” said Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship.
“The PEN America family of writers and readers stands in solidarity with the family of Christopher Allen, and our allied organizations in Europe and America, in calling for a professional investigation in to the circumstances of his murder. Those responsible must be brought to justice,” said Thomas O. Melia, Washington Director of PEN America.
"The Rory Peck Trust is committed to supporting the families of fallen journalists whenever we can. Our thoughts remain with Chris Allen’s family. Two years is too long to wait for answers,” said Clothilde Redfern, Director of the Rory Peck Trust.
South Sudan ranks 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.