25 April 2012

Media blackout follows coup

A sign for Guinea-Bissau's ruling political party PAIGC on election day in March, just weeks before a coup plunged the country into instability
A sign for Guinea-Bissau's ruling political party PAIGC on election day in March, just weeks before a coup plunged the country into instability
Joe Penney/Reuters
The coup against the government of Guinea-Bissau has been followed by "grave" media freedom violations, including threats to journalists, a news blackout and media censorship, say the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Freedom House.

According to RSF, the military high command suspended all media activity in the weekend following the 12 April coup, for the sake of "national cohesion."

The military told media executives at a meeting on 16 April that the media could resume operations as long as they did not mention protests in the capital. RSF called the move "the introduction of military censorship."

"Anyone contravening these orders would have been exposed to severe reprisals or would have had to go into a hiding," a media source told RSF. Only Guinea-Bissau's state-owned Radio Nacional, which is occupied by soldiers, continued to broadcast music and military communiqués appealing for calm.

António Aly Silva, the well-known blogger of Didatura do Consenso (Dictatorship of Consensus), was arrested and beaten by soldiers while he was photographing military installations on 13 April, report MFWA and RSF. They released him a few hours later but confiscated his equipment.

Soldiers also took over the premises of the Portuguese broadcaster RTP-Africa, threatened staff at gunpoint and stole cameras and other equipment from them, reports RSF.

Frequent power cuts and disruption of communications also prevented journalists from working properly, RSF added.

The small West African nation was just weeks away from holding a presidential runoff election when on 12 April soldiers attacked the home of the Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., who was the frontrunner. Gomes was arrested along with President Raimundo Pereira.

The self-declared military command said they had taken action because of an alleged secret agreement between Gomes and the Angolan government to "annihilate Guinea-Bissau's armed forces," says Freedom House. Angola has stationed troops in the country over the past year as part of a bilateral military agreement.

According to Freedom House, the country has been plagued by political instability, having been home to three coups since 1998 and a presidential assassination in 2009. Generally free and fair elections have seen frequently undercut by military intervention and the influence of the drug trade. Guinea-Bissau is a key staging post for cocaine moving from Latin America to Europe.

"As a result of violence by the security forces and by individuals linked to drug trafficking, the climate is rather hostile for journalism and media freedom," says RSF.

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