South Sudan’s High court has sentenced social media influencer and self-proclaimed activist Amira Ali Thomas to six months in prison for defaming former Warrap state Information minister Nyanagwek Kuol through videos she posted online.
The Juba court on Monday also ordered Ali Thomas, known as Mama Amira Ali to pay 35 million South Sudanese pounds (about $87,000) to Kuol in compensation.
Ali is known for posting searing commentary about South Sudanese personalities and government officials and often uses vulgar language in live videos on her Facebook page. In April, Ali posted two videos insulting Kuol’s family in her native Dinka language. Kuol later sued Ali for defamation.
Prosecutors in the Munuki West district opened a criminal case against Ali in June after Kuol filed a formal complaint with police about the videos Ali posted on her Facebook account.
“These videos offended the reputation of the complainant and her family, then the police started the investigations,” said judge Angolie Okumu, who presided over the court case.
After reviewing the videos and presiding over several hearings, Okumu found Ali guilty of insulting and disparaging Kuol’s family. The ruling used a law that prohibits the harming of someone’s reputation. Ali Thomas is “forbidden from uttering a word or committing a crime within the six-month period” or until she is sent to prison, according to court documents.
But Okumu suspended the jail time due to Ali Thomas’ health issues, which include a heart condition, high blood pressure and diabetes, the court said.
Prosecuting lawyer Achuil Kuol, not related to the former Information minister, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that although the ruling seemed fair, his client is not happy that Ali was given a suspended prison sentence. Kuol said the medical documents presented in court did not come from an official medical institution.
“We said the court [should have] ruled and dismissed the documents because they are irrelevant,” Kuol said.
Ali, who appeared relaxed during the sentencing, said she appreciated the court’s ruling and said it sends a message to South Sudanese citizens that a judicial system is in place and no one is above the law.
“I am not annoyed,” she said, adding that the videos centered on a family dispute and were not aimed at the former information minister.
“I have no problem with Nyanagwek,” she told reporters.