The Christian Science Monitor Weekly

March 16, 2020

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THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | MARCH 16, 2020 3 F R O M T H E E D I T O R How one Monitor friend shook a country C hol Duang had a powerful idea. And that is exactly what frightened his government and forced him into exile. Last summer, this column introduced Monitor readers to Mr. Duang. The journalist from South Sudan had come to Monitor headquar- ters in Boston as part of his participation in the Mandela Wash- ington Fellowship. Looking around at his colleagues, he said the program brought "the best of Africa" to the United States. And in return, he said, he would bring the best of the United States back to Africa. "There are so many things to take home and to apply," he said. That was when the trouble started. In a free society, Mr. Duang's ideas upon returning home might have seemed unremarkable. He wanted to create a news show in which tea sellers and cabdrivers – ordinary folks – could have a frank conversation with politicians and power brokers. But the government already had an eye on him. Since his return from the U.S., there had been questions – perhaps from joking co-workers at first, but then accompanied by plainclothes police knock- ing on his door. What did you learn in America? Are you a spy? When Mr. Duang was no longer willing to toe the gov- ernment line – simply spout- ing talking points as he once did – the scrutiny grew. The time in the U.S. "has given me the opportunity to think about what my role is and what my contribution should be in the country. Not just al- lowing lies or things that are not true going by under your watch," he told our Africa writer, Ryan Lenora Brown, when she reached out to him recently. As intelligence agencies ramped up their interest in Mr. Duang, family mem- bers started fearing for his life. "If these guys get you without public knowledge, who knows what could happen to you," he said. The launch of the television program – which received support from the U.S. Embassy – drew renewed suspicion. Then a Facebook post critiquing gov- ernment policy led to threatening calls. Now, Mr. Duang has fled the country and remains in exile. Why should a television program put a man's life in danger? As Ryan told me, "His story speaks to how powerful – and therefore dan- gerous – elevating the stories of 'ordinary' people can be to those in power." Mr. Duang says he does not regret coming to Ameri- ca. "There is an accusation ... against me that I'm becoming more radical after returning from the U.S. Maybe I was given a new worldview, and that I'm becoming more rad- ical and behaving in a way that is leading me to question the way they think." To authoritarian governments, that mental transformation is arguably more dangerous than any arsenal. Mr. Duang's life is proof of how even the merest hint of transformation exposes the corroded motives that free societies fight the world over and in themselves. Adds Ryan, "It's a good reminder of why we do what we do, and why even telling stories about people who aren't big names is essential for a society to breathe." A worker reads a copy of The Citizen in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, during a late-night print run of the nation's largest newspaper. CHOL DUANG ADRIANE OHANESIAN/REUTERS/FILE BY MARK SAPPENFIELD EDITOR HANDOUT r Email me at

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