Peter Biar Ajak was studying a PhD at Trinity CollegeBrookings Institution/Youtube

On Thursday, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir pardoned 30 prisoners including prominent South Sudanese economist and Cambridge PhD student, Peter Biar Ajak, who had been sentenced to two years in prison in June 2019.

Biar was studying a PhD in Politics and International Studies at Trinity College when he was first arrested by the National Security Service (NSS) at Juba International Airport in July 2018.  

He was detained without charge for eight months in the NSS detention facility Blue House, of which his lawyer at the time, Jared Genser, said was "in clear violation of his rights under international law," and was eventually charged with treason for publicly criticising the country’s direction of the peace process. Biar was the centre of an international social media campaign #freepeterbriar, with the United Nations condemning his continued detainment.

When these charges were later dropped, Biar was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison in June 2019 for disturbing the peace and inciting public violence. Judge Sumaiya Saleh Abdallah said Biar violated various sections of the South Sudan Penal code when he gave an interview to foreign media during a prison riot that took place in October 2018 when he was detained in Blue House.

Amnesty International slammed the South Sudanese court ruling that sentenced six South Sudanese men in total saying that throughout the trial, they had “received reports of harassment and intimidation of defence lawyers, witnesses and even the arbitrary arrest and detention of a defence witness”. 

Biar fled to the United States as a youth, was educated at Harvard and Cambridge, becoming the first person from South Sudan to study at the University of Cambridge. He worked at the World Bank and as South Sudan country director for the International Growth Centre, part of the London School of Economics.

Biar is a founding member and director of C-SAR, an independent policy think-tank based in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. He is also a senior advisor at the International Growth Centre (IGC) and chairman of the South Sudan Youth Leaders Forum, which works with South Sudanese young people to address both humanitarian and security challenges facing the country.


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Friends and colleagues march through Cambridge in solidarity with Peter Biar Ajak

"It's a good gesture by President Salva Kiir for keeping his words. The release ... is a New Year gift to the family of Biar," Philip Anyang, Biar lawyer, told Reuters.

Cambridge University Amnesty International wrote on Facebook: “We are thrilled to hear that Peter Biar has been released from prison after 524 days, and will be reunited with his family.

“Thank you to everyone who has campaigned for #freepeterbiar. Peter's freedom inspires us to continue to fight for the rights, dignity and justice of individuals around the world”.

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