FRONT PAGES—This photo taken June 22 shows South Sudanese newspaper front pages, including two with news stories removed by the printer on the instructions of the government, in Juba, South Sudan. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) —As South Sudan’s civil war creates the world’s largest refugee crisis and widespread allegations of sexual and ethnic violence, the government is clamping down on the news media, journalists charge.

This is starkly evident in the country’s newspapers, which the government in May started censoring by blanking out articles it deems critical.

In addition, 15 South Sudanese journalists have been arrested, beaten, jailed, threatened or denied access to information in the past four months, according to the Union of Journalists in South Sudan.

At least 20 members of the foreign press have been banned from or kicked out of South Sudan in the past six months, the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa says.

With the civil war more than three-and-a-half years old, journalists say they are hard-pressed to report on alleged atrocities amid warnings by the United Nations and others of “ethnic cleansing.”

In her first public statement on the issue, U.S. Ambassador Molly Phee told The Associated Press that the pattern of denying visas to foreign journalists violates international standards.

“U.S. law prohibits assistance to the government of South Sudan until they take effective steps to protect freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” Phee said. Such direct financial assistance to a government doesn’t include humanitarian aid, which this year amounts to $391 million.

Since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, the media landscape has become grim. Reporters without Borders ranks the country 145th out of 180 states in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, down five slots from the previous year.

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