Christopher Allen, a 25-year-old freelance journalist, was among 19 killed on Saturday morning when fighting erupted between opposition and government forces along the border between South Sudan and Uganda.
South Sudan army spokesman Col. Santo Domic Chol told The Associated Press that Allen was killed Saturday morning when opposition rebels attacked the town of Kaya near the borders with Uganda and Congo.
He was “caught in the fighting” that also left 15 rebels dead, Chol said.
“On the ground, about 16 [bodies] have been found around the defensive position of the SPLA including this white man,” Chol told Reuters news agency.
But an opposition spokesman, William Gatjiath Deng, told the Associated Press that Allen was in the rebel barracks when South Sudanese troops attacked, adding that he “was targeted and killed by the government forces for photographing the fight.”
Chol dismissed the opposition account as “rubbish,” saying the government forces acted in self-defence and Allen was killed in the crossfire near the town of Kaya, 2 kilometers (1 mile) from Bazi.
Allen had previously worked in Ukraine since the war broke out there in 2014, and was one of the first reporters on the ground after Russian-backed separatists allegeldy shot down the Malaysian airliner.
“I did history at the [university],” Allen’s friend, Victoria Zhuhan, quoted him as saying on Facebook. “I saw that the history was happening on your Maidan, and I came over.”
“I left academia because I believed that out here in a place where humanity is at its most exposed and raw, I might better understand something fundamental about the way the world works and the way history is made — about who people really are,” Allen had written in the Pennsylvania Gazette.
“He was not afraid to stand up for himself and for what was right, not afraid to go straight to hell. He knew what he was doing and he knew the price,” Zhuhan said.
“He fought with the Guardian for paying less than 100 pounds for a story from the frontline, fought with the Washington Post for wrongly rewriting his article, with Al Jazeera for cutting out a piece of his story” after lawsuits were threatened, Zhuhan said.
“Before going to South Sudan, he had that crazy look in his eyes: he was after The Big Story,” Zhuhan said, adding that he told her that “When I find myself in a truck with the rebels with Kalashnikovs all around, then I will calm down.”
“Had he read the headlines about his death, I know what his reaction would have been: “Well at least the death of an American journalist made them remember there’s a civil war in South Sudan. I hate this hypocrisy!”, he would yell, gesturing emotionally, and I would have been confident he would keep on fighting,” Zhuhan said.
“He had a passion for telling the stories of people touched by war,” a family friend, Pat Hughes, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He went to South Sudan for the same reason all good journalists go to trouble spots: to get the story and to bring that story to the world’s attention.”
South Sudan’ is in its fourth year of civil war, which has killed tens of thousands of people.
It’s also one of the harshest climates in the world for journalists, according to press freedom groups. Recently the government has cracked down on the press, blocking several South Sudan news websites.
In the past few months, 15 South Sudanese journalists have been detained, beaten or denied access to information, according to the Union of Journalists in South Sudan and more than 20 foreign journalists have been denied entry or kicked out of the country.
South Sudan’s leaders should “condemn this killing, investigate how it happened and hold those responsible to account,” Jehanne Henry, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press.
“When we were saying goodbye,” Zhuhan wrote, “I wished him to get The Story in South Sudan. I don’t remember if I told him to take care. When once again he was sharing some of his crazy journalist adventures, I asked him to write memoirs. He laughed and dismissed it, but the only thing I wish now is that I could just keep on listening.”
Allen was a Pennsylvania native who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013.
As @Jake_Hanrahan points out, Chris self funded trips and worked on a shoestring budget to get his stories out. Dies at 25 y.o. Brutal. https://t.co/xaCrCAr6cC
— Christian Borys (@ItsBorys) August 26, 2017
Freelance journalist Christopher Allen has been killed whilst reporting in South Sudan. He was just 25. RIP mate.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.