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Prominent South Sudan activist released from prison

January 4, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2019 file photo, prominent South Sudanese activist and economist Peter Biar Ajak prepares to embrace his wife Nyathon Hoth Mai, left, as she weeps after he was sentenced to two years in prison, in a courtroom in the capital Juba, South Sudan. A lawyer said Friday, Jan 3, 2020 that the prominent South Sudan activist and economist has not been freed from prison despite being pardoned in a presidential decree. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2019 file photo, prominent South Sudanese activist and economist Peter Biar Ajak prepares to embrace his wife Nyathon Hoth Mai, left, as she weeps after he was sentenced to two years in prison, in a courtroom in the capital Juba, South Sudan. A lawyer said Friday, Jan 3, 2020 that the prominent South Sudan activist and economist has not been freed from prison despite being pardoned in a presidential decree. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick, File)

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) —

A prominent South Sudan activist and economist was freed from prison Saturday after a presidential pardon and said he will return to his work to ensure peace goes forward in the country after years of civil war.

Peter Biar Ajak in a brief statement to reporters said his detention had been “extremely harsh” but improved before the release. He said a medical check-up was a priority after poor health treatment behind bars.

Human rights groups and others had protested Ajak’s arrest in 2018 without government explanation. He was sentenced to two years in prison last year after being accused of inciting an uprising behind bars and threatening the security of the state.

The presidential pardon for some 30 inmates was announced Thursday evening. Friends and family waited in vain Friday for the release while South Sudan’s justice and interior ministries were processing the order.

Ajak’s father, Ajak Deng Biar, joined his son in expressing happiness at the release. The father added that he was thankful to President Salva Kiir.

South Sudan was meant to free all political prisoners under a peace deal signed in September 2018 to end its five-year civil war that killed almost 400,000 people.

The crucial next step in the peace deal, the formation of a coalition government between Kiir and armed opposition leader Riek Machar, was delayed for 100 days in November to the dismay of some observers.

The United States and others have expressed hope that the current deadline will be met.