JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan's suspended ruling party secretary-general petitioned the Supreme Court on Wednesday to overturn and declare unconstitutional an order by the president that restricted him from movement outside of the capital and speaking to the press, his lawyer said.
President Salva Kiir on July 23 dismissed his first Vice President Riek Machar and suspended Pagan Amum, the secretary-general of the ruling SPLM party. He appointed a committee to investigate Amum for charges of insubordination and creating social divisions within the party. Kiir also dismissed his cabinet and reduced the number of ministries from 29 to 18.
Days after the political shake-up, the president issued another order restricting Amum from moving out of Juba, the capital, and from speaking to media.
"My fundamental rights and basic freedoms that are enshrined in the constitution, my rights as citizen of this country have been infringed on by an order of the chairman of the SPLM. This is an unconstitutional," Amum said. "This is why we are here in court today in pursuit of protection of my rights by the Supreme Court of South Sudan."
This is the first time since South Sudan's independence that someone is challenging the powers of the president in court.
Amum's head lawyer, Dong Samuel Luak, said Kiir had violated the country's constitution.
"We feel that the justice system in South Sudan should come forward and make sure that they are the custodians of the constitution and also that they are the protectors of the rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens of South Sudan regardless of their political affiliation, or gender or sex," said Luak.
Under South Sudan's constitution, all petitions related to constitutional matters are handled by a panel of nine judges of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Chan Reec Madut received the petition Wednesday and is expected to assemble a panel to hear the petition.
Luak said he believed the Supreme Court has the powers to overturn any decisions by the executive that violate the country's constitution.
Many of the ministers who were dismissed by the president were key figures in the rebel movement that fought a decades-long war against Sudan that led to South Sudan's independence in 2011. Amum is the chief negotiator in post-independence talks with Sudan.
Reports of a power struggle in the ruling party have persisted, particularly between Kiir and Macher, who had said he is interested in running for president in 2015.
Amum has also expressed interest in leading the ruling party and in recent days has been critical of Kiir's leadership. Given that South Sudan is almost a one party state, winning leadership of the party effectively means an automatic ticket to the presidency.
Amum said he would also challenge an order to appear before an investigation committee.
"I will not appear before that committee because it is formed in violation of the SPLM constitution itself," Amum said. "The powers of establishing disciplinary committees are not powers given to individual leaders."
Amum also said Kiir's decision to suspend him was in violation of party rules and the constitution.
"The basic rules define suspension as one of the penalties or sanctions only imposed in case of a proven violation while the chairman's order is basing the suspension of the secretary general on allegations," Amum said.