The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the government's closure of Radio Bombolom, Guinea-Bissau's main independent news broadcaster, in the latest attempt to silence critical voices ahead of general elections scheduled for April 20.
On February 13, police shuttered Radio Bombolom's offices, forcing the broadcaster off the air. The Ministry of Information accused the station of "broadcasting false information that could jeopardize national sovereignty and the stability of the country."
Radio Bombolom is known for its news and discussion programs, during which participants frequently criticize your ruling Social Renewal Party. Sources in the capital, Bissau, told CPJ that the station's closure is likely related to a January 28 broadcast of a debate among civic leaders that Bombolom hosted. During the program, João Vaz Mané, vice president of the Guinean Human Rights League (LGDH), called Your Excellency a "source of instability" in the country and accused you of mismanaging Guinea-Bissau's resources. Mané was arrested the following day and detained by police for three weeks without charge.
Radio Bombolom's closure follows the arrests of several opposition members and outspoken critics of your government and seems to be a part of an ongoing effort to stifle independent news media that question or criticize Your Excellency's rule.
In early December 2002, authorities banned the Portuguese radio and television broadcaster Radiotelevisão Portuguesa (RTP) after the station aired a program about Gen. Ansumane Mané, who had led an unsuccessful coup in November 2000 and was killed shortly thereafter. The program included coverage of an Amnesty International report calling for an inquiry into Mané's death. The government accused RTP of broadcasting "information that could tarnish the good image of Guinea-Bissau abroad and could foment anger within the country."
RTP bureau-chief João Pereira da Silva was expelled from the country. The Portuguese government continues to negotiate with Your Excellency's government to reopen RTP and allow da Silva's return to Guinea-Bissau.
In April 2002, Guinean attorney general Caetano Ntchama banned all media from publishing or broadcasting any information from the LGDH. And in October 2001, Ntchama ordered the closure of the private newspapers Diario de Bissau and Gazeta de Noticias, accusing them of "undermining the nation's independence, integrity and national unity." Local journalists said that these acts of censorship came in reprisal for the newspapers' and human rights organization's criticism of the government.
The information void caused by Radio Bombolom's closure will greatly hamper Guinea-Bissau citizens' ability to make informed decisions about their government during the upcoming elections. We therefore call on Your Excellency to do everything within your power to ensure that Radio Bombolom is allowed to resume broadcasting, and that Guinean media are able to operate freely without fear of reprisal from authorities.
Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We await your reply.