Attacks on the Press 1999: Suriname

In May, Suriname’s dire economic situation sparked mass protests against the government of president Jules Wijdenbosch. Under siege, the government stepped up its harassment of local media.

Self-censorship runs deep in Surinam journalism. The five private television stations mainly broadcast entertainment. The two state-owned television stations largely toe the official line. Little public information is available, and there are also rumors that some journalists have been bribed into docility.

Journalists who venture to criticize the government are routinely harassed with threatening phone calls, but official harassment escalated after the protests began. On May 28, state security agents tear-gassed and verbally abused journalists covering a massive protest in the capital, Paramaribo. They also arrested Dutch reporter Armand Snijders on the unlikely charge of stealing a television set. He was released 10 hours later.

The government seemed particularly irked by live broadcast coverage of the demonstrations. During a meeting with local radio and TV directors in May, Vice President Pretaap Radhakishun warned that live broadcasts could have “an inflammatory effect.” Since government broadcast licenses may be revoked if a media outlet “instigates violence,” local journalists interpreted the warning as a veiled censorship threat.

There is a long tradition of intolerance toward the press in Suriname, which was ruled by the military until 1991. The current government was democratically elected but remains packed with former military officers. With the May 25, 2000, elections approaching, some local journalists were hopeful that the government would become more media-friendly. But at the time of writing, officials continued to interpret all critical coverage as “destabilizing and anti-government.”