The Trinity student received a presidential pardon in January 2020YOUTUBE/INTERNATIONAL GROWTH CENTRE

The economist and Cambridge PhD student Peter Biar Ajak landed in Washington D.C on Friday (24/07) with his wife and three daughters after what he described as a “harrowing journey”. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal he escaped an abduction attempt ordered by the National Security Service of South Sudan (NSS), an allegation the South Sudanese government denies.

Ajak had been in hiding for the past five weeks, after sources told him the South Sudanese government planned to kill him. The US State Department told Reuters the threat was credible enough to grant Ajak a visa. His lawyer and human rights activist Jared Genser shared pictures of a white SUV that followed Ajak while he drove through Nairobi.

Ajak is an outspoken critic of the South Sudanese government having previously founded the South Sudan Youth Leaders Forum, a group that calls for free elections, an end to endemic violence, and democracy.

South Sudan has not held an election since it first gained its independence nine years ago, and a 2018 study estimated that 383,000 had died as a result of internal conflicts that followed it.

In 2010, Ajak also founded the South Sudan Wrestling Group to promote peace and understanding amongst different tribes via sports.

From 2018 to 2019, Ajak was imprisoned without charge in South Sudan. His lawyer Genser called his 2018 arrest a “clear violation of Ajak’s rights under international law”. He was held in the ‘Blue House’, a notorious South Sudanese prison reported as being ‘rife with abuse’.

His arrest sparked international outrage, with Amnesty International calling it part of a global trend to ‘criminalize free speech’.

Following his 2018 arrest, Vice President Stephen Toope had written a letter to Sudanese premier Salva Kiir calling Ajak’s arrest “unconstitutional” whilst petitioning for his release. In early 2019 University staff, students and friends of Ajak marched through Cambridge in solidarity with the PhD student.


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Ajak received a presidential pardon in January of this year.

At age 16, Ajak fled Sudan for the United States. He was one of the 20,000 South Sudanese ‘lost boys’ the second South Sudanese Civil War displaced. Ajak later graduated from Harvard with a master of Public Administration in International Development, before earning a scholarship to complete a PhD in international relations at Trinity College Cambridge in 2013.

Upon arrival in the US, Ajak was greeted at the airport by his lawyer Jared Genser.

In an opinion piece published by the Wall Street journal, he said his story was an example of the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s “cruelty”. He thanked the US government for granting him a visa but called for increased international sanctions against Kiir’s government.