Phone call recording seems to capture Guyanese official's chilling message for newspaper
The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed deep concern over a recorded phone call in which a person identified as the attorney general of Guyana appeared to suggest that staff members of the daily Kaieteur News risked deadly reprisal if the paper continued its critical reporting.
On Oct. 28, Kaieteur News published the recording and a written transcript of what it said was a phone call made by Anil Nandlall, Guyana's attorney general and minister of legal affairs, to one of the paper's senior reporters. Nandlall has not denied that the call took place and Guyanese media have widely reported the voice to be his.
During the 19-minute conversation, the speaker identified as Nandlall can be heard stating that “everybody don't have a newspaper to use as a weapon … if [Kaieteur] continue to attack people like this and they [people] have no way of responding, they will just walk with their weapon into that same F**king Saffon Street office and wah [sic] come shall do”.
The speaker then warns the reporter: “My advice to you is that you should move out of there … it is a dangerous f**king place to work … I am telling you, read between the lines.”
Guyana's two main opposition parties, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC), have called for Nandlall's resignation in response to the recording. In a statement, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) termed the comments “reckless, irresponsible and outrageous”, and demanded that the government condemn them.
In an interview Wednesday with Guyana's official news agency (GINA), Nandlall insisted that the call constituted a “personal matter”. The government has publicly stood by the attorney general; quoted in the same GINA article, President Donald Ramotar stated that Nandlall had been “illegally taped” and his comments “taken totally out of context”. Earlier, a government statement called the paper's publication of the material “indecent and immoral” and hit out at “these vicious enemies of the Government of Guyana”.
Since the publication of the recording and the transcript, Nandlall has filed a G$ 30 million (€115,000) defamation lawsuit against Glenn Lall and Adam Harris, Kaieteur News' publisher and editor, respectively. The suit claims that the headline (“Attorney General Reveals Plan to 'HIT' Glenn Lall, Kaieteur News”) and article that accompanied the recording falsely implied that Nandlall was involved in criminal activity.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi today expressed solidarity with the Guyanese media community.
“The safety of journalists is an extremely serious matter and we are deeply troubled by the alleged contents of this recording,” she said. “Insofar as these comments risk giving the impression that violence is an appropriate response to unfavourable media coverage, such statements have an impact far beyond the individual newspaper in question: they place all of Guyana's journalists in danger.
“The Government of Guyana should focus now on making it clear that violence against the press will not be tolerated, and on reassuring the international community that it takes its responsibility to protect Kaieteur News staff and all other media practitioners in the country seriously.”
In recent months, Kaieteur News has been the frequent target of government ire, which the paper attributes to its aggressive reporting on allegations of corruption and nepotism in the public sector. In August, following investigations by the paper into the workings of the country's tax authority, Lall became the target of what supporters say is a politically motivated tax fraud probe. The following month, Guyana's tax commissioner, Khurshid Sattaur, filed a G$ 500 million (€2 million) libel lawsuit against Lall and Harris.
Also in September, Kaieteur News released what it said was a leaked email exchange between Sattaur and Nandlall. In the alleged exchange, the writer identified as Sattaur appeared, in connection with a desire to protect his reputation, to raise the possibility of pressing criminal fraud charges against Lall. The writer noted that a Kaieteur News columnist, Freddie Kissoon, no longer wrote “trash” about him “because a multi-million-dollar assessments [sic] hang over his head like the sword of damocles [sic]”.
The government has responded to the reports by initiating an investigation into alleged illegal hacking, citing concerns over “national security”.
In 2013, IPI conducted a press freedom mission to Guyana under the auspices of its criminal defamation campaign in the Caribbean. In a subsequent mission report, IPI described serious challenges faced by private media, including aggressive government rhetoric against criticism and discrimination in government advertising and broadcast license allocation.
The report also noted that instances of physical violence against the press remained a concern in Guyana, citing as an example a series of disturbing attacks on Kissoon. IPI has also documented the country's continued failure to secure justice for the 2006 murder of journalist Ronald Waddell.