Marchers on their way to Senate HouseOliver Rhodes

Around 25 people marched to Senate House in a demonstration of solidarity with Peter Biar Ajak, the Cambridge student and political activist who has been detained in his home country of South Sudan.

The ‘Free Peter Biar March’ started outside the Great Gate at Trinity College, where Biar studied his PhD with the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), before making its way down Trinity Street to hear an arrangement of speakers assembled outside Senate House.

Biar was arrested at Juba Airport in July 2018 and has been detained by the South Sudanese government without charge for over half a year. He was an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the peace process in the country, and a prominent advocate for constitutionalism in South Sudan.

Dr Glen Rangwala addressing the group outside Senate HouseOliver Rhodes

The University’s Amnesty International chairperson Tiffany Hui, who organised the march, told Varsity that “we want to raise awareness of Peter Biar’s situation not just among students, but the world in general”.

Demonstrators held flyers and banners in support of Biar’s release, and chanted “Say it now, say it clear, freedom now for Peter Biar” as they marched.

Outside Senate House, friends and colleagues of Biar spoke warmly of his commitment to the peace process in South Sudan. Dr Glen Rangwala, who oversaw Biar’s PhD work, described Biar as “one of the most remarkable students I have ever worked with” who “speaks for and embodies the promise of that country.”

Dr Ryan Rafaty, who studied his PhD alongside Biar, said that Biar is “a prisoner of conscience”, adding that “despite 70,000 public petition signatures, despite the actions of the UK and US embassies, despite politicians speaking out in support of Peter, justice has not been served.”


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Biar has not been formally charged by the South Sudanese authorities despite having been detained for over 188 days. Dr Stephanie Diepeveen, a friend of Biar and deputy director at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, told Varsity that Biar’s detainment is “part of a much bigger human rights issue” in South Sudan, following the government’s commitment to release political prisoners following the end of hostilities in 2011.

Biar fled Sudan as a child refugee during the Second Sudanese Civil War. He was offered asylum in the US when he was 16, completing a BA in Economics at La Salle University, Pennsylvania, before completing a Masters at Harvard. He gained a scholarship to study a PhD at Cambridge in 2013.

Working for the World Bank in South Sudan, Biar advised the government on economic and public policy. He has been an outspoken critic of a government “which has repeatedly broken ceasefires and peace agreements”, Raferty told Varsity. “He’s an activist of sorts but that might be a misnomer. He was organising youth leaders to take a role in the future development of the country.”

“He’s an activist of sorts but that might be a misnomer. He was organising youth leaders to take a role in the future development of the country”

In 2010 Biar established South Sudan Wrestling Entertainment, a sports competition organised to promote peace between South Sudan’s tribal groups. In a country whose median population age is 18 years old, Biar also organised a youth leadership forum to galvanise political leadership among young people in the country.

Sandile Mtetwa, President of the African Society, told the audience outside Senate House, “we challenge the leadership of South Sudan to respect their own constitution, and for the UK government to continue to press the case for Biar’s release.”

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