By Hereward Holland
JUBA, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The United Nations is alarmed over increasing threats and violence against journalists and human rights activists in South Sudan, the U.N. envoy in the African country said on Friday.
Reporters often complain of hassle and detention in South Sudan which broke away from Sudan in 2011 after a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
In 2013, South Sudan, a country ruled by former rebels and without a media law, slipped 13 places to 124 out of 179 on the world press freedom index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
"UNMISS (U.N. Mission in South Sudan) is deeply disturbed by reports of threats, intimidation, harassment and attacks against journalists, civil society and human rights activists," Hilde Johnson, the U.N. envoy in South Sudan, told reporters.
Johnson said authorities should speed up an investigation into the murder of outspoken newspaper columnist and government critic Diing Chan Awuol in December, the first killing of a journalist in the new republic.
Unknown assailants shot dead Awuol after he wrote an opinion piece in the Paris-based Sudan Tribune news website calling on the government to foster better ties with its old foe Sudan, and refrain from supporting rebel groups there.
This was a sensitive issue because media in South Sudan usually follow the government line that it does not support rebels operating in Sudan, rejecting accusations by Khartoum.
In January, two U.N. human rights investigators who had been looking into reports of threats against another journalist were detained and interrogated for several hours by South Sudan's military intelligence, Johnson said.
"Such acts are grave violations of the agreements the government has signed and the privileges and immunities of United Nations personnel, and we have protested accordingly."
In 2011, South Sudan shut down the English-language newspaper Destiny after it criticised President Salva Kiir for allowing his daughter to marry a foreigner.
In January, the government of Western Bahr El Ghazal state detained two senior staff at the state broadcaster for several days after the station failed to cover Kiir's visit to the town of Wau in December. (Editing by Ulf Laessing and Mark Heinrich)