The video showed a dark stain spreading down the 71-year-old president's gray trousers as he stood for the national anthem at a road commissioning event back in December. The broadcasting corporation said the footage was never aired. However, it was widely circulated on social media.
Patrick Oyet, president of the South Sudan Union of Journalists, told Reuters that the journalists were "suspected of having knowledge on how the video of the president urinating himself came out."
The detained journalists are camera operators Joseph Oliver and Mustafa Osman; video editor Victor Lado; contributor Jacob Benjamin; and Cherbek Ruben and Joval Toombe from the control room.
"We are concerned because those who are detained now have stayed longer than what the law says," Oyet said.
According to South Sudanese law, authorities are allowed to detain suspects for only 24 hours before bringing them before a judge. Sub-Saharan Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Muthoki Mumo said the incident "matches a pattern of security personnel resorting to arbitrary detention whenever officials deem coverage unfavorable."
CPJ contacted South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei for comment, but did not receive a response. Mumo told the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster "Voice of America" that people should wait to learn why the journalists were detained.
Kiir has been president since South Sudan gained independence in 2011. His officials have repeatedly denied rumors circulating on social media that he is unwell. His government has been embroiled in many controversies and crises, including enduring brutal conflict, political turmoil, natural disasters and hunger.
Also, rights groups have frequently called on the South Sudanese authorities to stop harassing and threatening journalists.
The now-viral video has sparked an online debate across Africa about Kiir's ability to lead the country and the ethics of sharing an "embarrassing" incident on social media.
People, including politicians and lawyers from Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, have raised concerns over his long rule. The president has been on the seat since independence in 2011, and South Sudan has not held an election since. The next election is scheduled for 2024.
Many said the incident showed Kiir was not well enough to rule a nation facing intense challenges like acute levels of hunger, conflict and climate shocks. (Related: South Sudan youth urged to focus on farming to alleviate food crisis.)
"I expected President Kiir to have honorably retired on health grounds by now. But my critics say I am an idealist and that's not how politics works," Kenyan lawyer Esther Ang'awa said.
Nigerian Sen. Shehu Sani expressed concerns, but still tried to make the president look good. "This may be a urinary sickness or an extreme act of patriotism; [refusing] to excuse himself while the national anthem was being played," the senator said.
Wani Michael, a South Sudanese civil society activist, said his concern for the president's health was misunderstood by others. "Some people called us enemies of peace and state," he said. "President Salva Kiir is an elder and we respect him. We'll recollect him from all these mocking and give him the respect he deserves. We'll not mock his health even if we disagree with his government."
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