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(Nairobi) – A prominent South Sudanese lawyer and human rights advocate is at risk of unlawful deportation from Kenya to South Sudan, where he could face persecution, Human Rights Watch said today. Kenyan authorities detained the lawyer, Dong Samuel Luak, on January 23, 2017.

Dong Samuel Luak, a South Sudanese activist and lawyer. © 2011 Private

According to credible reports, Luak, a refugee, is being held at the Nairobi Area Police Headquarters, has been denied access to legal counsel, and is subject to a deportation order.

“Dong Samuel Luak has been a vocal advocate for human rights in South Sudan for many years, and could face serious mistreatment if returned to South Sudan,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Kenyan authorities should respect his rights, allow him access to legal counsel and United Nations refugee officials, and immediately halt any deportation proceedings against him.”

From 2002 to 2013, Luak was secretary-general of the South Sudan Law Society, a South Sudanese nongovernmental organization focused on promoting justice, human rights, and the rule of law. He fled to Kenya in August 2013, after receiving death threats following his defense of Pagan Amum, the former secretary general of South Sudan’s governing party, whom the South Sudan government had accused of treason.

Since South Sudan’s conflict began in December 2013, Luak has continued publicly to denounce human rights abuses and corruption by South Sudanese government officials. He joined South Sudan’s opposition forces – known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (the “IO”), led by former Vice-President Riek Machar – as the group’s deputy chairman for justice and human rights. In October 2015, he was brutally attacked at his home in Nairobi by men thought to be linked to South Sudan’s security services.

Kenyan law, the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the regional African Union treaty on refugees prohibit refoulement, the return of a refugee “in any manner whatsoever” to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened.

In recent years, Kenya has unlawfully deported several prominent opposition members from neighboring countries to their countries of origin, despite being recognized as refugees under Kenyan law and protests by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Most recently, in November 2016, Kenya deported a prominent South Sudanese politician, James Gatdet Dak, who acted as Machar’s main spokesperson. Gatdet Dak was arrested upon arrival in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, and has since been held, without charge, at the headquarters of South Sudan’s National Security Services (NSS).

There are serious concerns that the same fate, or worse, may await Luak if Kenya forcibly returns him, Human Rights Watch said.

“Dong Samuel Luak is at serious risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and other abuses if returned to South Sudan,” Lefkow said. “Kenyan authorities need to respect their obligations under international and Kenyan law and ensure he is protected.”

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