Attacks on the Press 2006: Africa Snapshots

Attacks & developments throughout the region


• Editor Fulric Richard Couao-Zotti and Managing Editor Virgile Linkpon of the private weekly La Diaspora de Sabbat were imprisoned for three days in September over a story about the president’s family. The article claimed that President Yayi Boni’s eldest son had a mental illness, according to Joseph Perzo Anago, head of the Benin media center, and local media reports. A presidential spokesman said the journalists had attacked Boni’s family.

• In September, police detained overnight Cyril Saïzonou, director of the private daily Djakpata, and questioned him about a series of articles critical of the police and a top government official, according to CPJ sources. He was released without charge.

back to top


• Security forces in April detained and questioned Antoine Bationo, a journalist with the private daily Le Pays, after he interviewed former soldiers accused of attempting a coup, according to local sources. The gendarmerie also summoned the paper’s publication director, Boureima Jérémie Sigue, and questioned him for several hours. Both journalists were released without charge, but a seized recording device was not immediately returned.

• The examining magistrate investigating the 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo dropped charges in July against the only indicted suspect, presidential guard member Marcel Kafando. The judge cited a lack of evidence. Press freedom and human rights activists expressed outrage at the decision and a lawyer for the victim’s family said he would appeal. An independent commission of inquiry had concluded in May 1999 that Kafando was one of six “serious suspects” in the murder.

back to top


• Arsonists set fire in January to the premises of the stillborn private radio station Freedom FM, founded by award-winning journalist Pius Njawe. The fire damaged the station’s antenna. Police found a gasoline can at the scene and opened an investigation. The government had shuttered Freedom FM in May 2003, just as the station was about to launch. Its studios were unsealed in July 2005, but authorities did not honor their pledge, pursuant to a June 2005 agreement, to grant the station “provisional authorization” to operate, Njawe told CPJ.

• In March, at least one managing editor was sentenced to prison on a charge of criminal defamation after three private newspapers published lists of alleged “secret homosexuals.” Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, director of L’Anecdote, was sentenced to four months in jail, fined 1 million CFA francs (US$2,000), and ordered to pay symbolic damages of 1 CFA franc (less than 1 U.S. cent) to Grégoire Owona, a cabinet minister. Owona filed a complaint against Belinga after his name appeared in one of the lists. Belinga filed an appeal and stood by his decision to publish the names, claiming to be a crusader against homosexuality in Cameroonian society.

• Agnès Taile, the host of a popular news talk show with the private radio station Sweet FM in Douala, was dragged at knifepoint from her home on November 6 by three unidentified assailants, who choked her, beat her, and left her in a ravine, according to local media reports and the Cameroon National Journalists Union. On the last show before the attack, she asked listeners to assess the record of President Paul Biya’s party, in power for 24 years. Tailé had received several phone threats weeks before the attack, local journalists said.

back to top


• Rebel fighters who briefly seized the central town of Mongo abducted journalist Eliakim Vanambyl, editor of the N’Djamena-based radio station FM Liberté, in April. Vanambyl had traveled to Mongo to report on a human rights conference. He was released six days later, and the reason for his capture remained unclear. Vanambyl was not mistreated while in captivity, local journalists said.

• Also in April, security forces in the capital, N’Djamena, detained and badly beat René Dillah Yombirim, a correspondent for the BBC and the state-owned Radiodiffusion Nationale Tchadienne, following an attempt by rebels to overthrow the government. It was unclear what motivated the attack. Security forces confiscated Yombirim’s recording equipment and listened to recordings of his interviews, according to journalist and human rights activist Dobian Assingar.

• At the end of April, Iranian-born journalist and then-head of the Chadian Union of Private Radios Tchanguis Vatankah was jailed for three weeks after he signed a union press release calling for a postponement of the May presidential elections. Vatankah told CPJ that authorities had dropped a threat to deport him after he promised to keep out of politics and to step down as the head of the union. The threat dated from 2005, when Vatankah, founder of the community station Radio Brakos, had been jailed for two months.

• Evariste Ngaralbaye, a journalist for the private weekly Notre Temps, was jailed October 27 for four days without charge at the gendarmerie, the national police headquarters, in the capital, N’Djamena. Police pressed him to reveal his sources for an editorial critical of the government’s conduct of its war against rebels in eastern Chad. The article alleged that the gendarmerie and the army widely conscripted underage youths. Ngaralbaye was released because of procedural irregularities, Justice Minister Abderamane Djasnabaye told CPJ.

• On November 13, authorities barred private newspapers and radio stations from reporting on issues “likely to threaten public order,” according to a government statement. This was part of a state of emergency introduced in response to clashes between Arab and non-Arab communities in eastern Chad. The measures were taken initially for 12 days and then extended to six months. Newspapers in N’Djamena suspended publication for a week in protest, or published black strips to show where text had been censored, according to local journalists.

back to top


• Paramilitary police detained Aboubacar Mchangama, director of the independent weekly L’Archipel, for two days in March in the capital, Moroni, over an article detailing discontent among army officers. He was charged with “divulging military secrets,” according to the pan-African news agency Panapress.

back to top


• On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, CPJ named Equatorial Guinea one of the 10 Most Censored Countries in the world, ranking it behind only North Korea, Burma, and Turkmenistan. Criticism of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s brutal regime is not tolerated, the survey found. Broadcast media are state owned, except for one private station owned by the president’s son. A handful of private newspapers officially exist but rarely publish due to financial and political pressures. Foreign correspondents have been denied visas or expelled without official explanation.

back to top


• CPJ named Eritrea one of the 10 Most Censored Countries in the world. It is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa without a single private media outlet, CPJ’s survey found. The government’s repressive policies have left the tiny Horn of Africa nation largely hidden from international scrutiny and with almost no local access to independent information. The handful of foreign correspondents in the capital, Asmara, are subject to intensive monitoring by authorities.

• Authorities required all foreigners in June to obtain permits to travel within the country, in addition to the usual visas needed to enter the country, Agence France-Presse reported and several CPJ sources confirmed. The new restrictions were at least partly aimed at curtailing foreign journalists from reporting outside the capital, the sources said.

• At least 23 Eritrean journalists were jailed or held against their will when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists on December 1. Fifteen had been held since a vicious 2001 crackdown shuttered the independent press. Another eight journalists, all working for state media, were detained in November.

back to top


• The government-controlled National Communication Council allowed the private newspaper L’Autre Journal to resume publishing in July, according to the state-owned daily L’Union. No official reason was given, a local journalist told CPJ. The decision came two and a half years after L’Autre Journal was banned for articles that might “disturb public order,” amid a broad crackdown on the media. The newspaper appears intermittently and had published only two editions before it was forced to close.

• The state-controlled National Council on Communications banned the private weekly Les Echos du Nord for three months in September over an editorial that criticized the government’s handling of a territorial dispute with Equatorial Guinea, according to local and international media. The article also suggested that there was fighting within the government in anticipation of the end of Gabonese President Omar Bongo’s rule, and that the strife was indicative of a dying regime. The director of the paper, Désiré Ename, went on a hunger strike to protest the ruling.

• Norbert Mezui, editor of the private Libreville-based weekly Nku’u Le Messager, was jailed on October 18 and forced to serve a 21-day sentence for defamation. His sentence was suddenly implemented three years after it was handed down and despite a pending appeal. The defamation charges stemmed from a 2003 article alleging mismanagement of state treasury funds.

back to top


• In February, the National Communication Council, an official regulatory body known by its French acronym, CNC, suspended the private bimonthly newspaper Les Echos for two months and banned two of its journalists from working during that time. The council cited “the publication of false news and an attack on the honor and dignity” of a government minister, Kiridi Bangoura. Bangoura brought a complaint against the paper after it published an article accusing him of “becoming rich off the back of Guineans.”

• The CNC suspended the semimonthly private newspaper L’Enquêteur for two months for publishing allegedly “tendentious and unfounded information” that could endanger national security. The offending article spoke of divisions among senior government leaders, corruption, and a lack of political dialogue, according to a CPJ source. The suspension was imposed in April.

• Guinea became the last country in the West African subregion to allow private broadcasting. The CNC allocated frequencies in August to the country’s first two private radio stations, ending a 48-year-long state broadcasting monopoly. Legislation liberalizing the airwaves was passed in December 2005.

• Managing Director Ibrahima Sory Dieng and Editor-in-Chief Alhassane Souare of the state-owned newspaper Horoya were suspended indefinitely in October by Minister of Information Aboubacar Sylla for not publishing a photograph of President Lassana Conte. According to news reports, the photograph was supposed to have appeared alongside the president’s speech in the Independence Day edition of the paper.

back to top


• In June, police arrested Augusto Queba Barbosa, a reporter for the private radio station Bombolom FM in the southwestern town of Bolama, after he broadcast a report accusing a local police officer of violence against a woman, according to Panapress and a local source. Barbosa was accused of broadcasting “false news.” He was beaten while in custody and detained for 24 hours before being released without charge, the local source told CPJ.

back to top


• Police raided two alternative newspapers in February, detaining journalists as well as vendors. Local journalists linked the attack on the Weekly Citizen to a story alleging that President Mwai Kibaki was “senile” and no longer in control of the government. Reasons for the raid onThe Independent were unclear. Ezekiel Mutua, secretary-general of the Kenya Union of Journalists, said the government, amid widespread accusations of corruption, was seeking excuses to intimidate journalists. The alternative press is known for reporting on sex and political scandals.

• In February, police detained three journalists with The Standard, Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, over a story alleging that Kibaki had held a secret meeting with a fired former minister to bring him back into the shaky government. The weekend edition’s managing director, Chaacha Mwita, copy editor Dennis Onyango, and reporter Ayub Savula were charged two days later with publishing “alarming statements” and released on bail. Their trial began in August. In late September, local media reported that the state had dropped the case after two key witnesses failed to show up in court.

• Armed and masked police officers conducted a midnight raid at the offices of The Standard on March 2, harassing staff, vandalizing equipment, and setting fire to roughly 20,000 copies of the next day’s edition. Internal Security Minister John Michuki told journalists that the raid was carried out to protect state security, while a police statement said the newspaper had accepted money to print “a series of fabricated articles aimed at achieving instability.” A similar raid was made on the offices of the Kenya Television Network (KTN), which is owned by the Standard Group; several staffers were detained, and as many as 40 computer hard drives were confiscated.

• In May, Michuki warned journalists that he would use force against local media outlets that criticized the government, according to local and international news reports. Referring to the March raids on The Standard and KTN, Michuki said, “I have no apologies to make on the destruction that the government meted out.” He said he would order “a repeat performance to any media house which is out to destroy the government.”

back to top


• Journalists Morris Gayboe of The Informer and Charles Yates of The Inquirer were assaulted by security forces in April while covering a police eviction of street vendors in the capital, Monrovia, according to media reports and the Press Union of Liberia.

• George Watkins, of the Catholic Church-owned Radio Veritas, was assaulted by Special Security Services (SSS) agents in May while reporting on the alleged enlistment of a former rebel commander by the SSS, according to the independent daily The Analyst and the Press Union of Liberia.

• SSS agents harassed and briefly detained four local journalists at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia in June. Alphonsus Zeon, secretary-general of the Press Union, told CPJ that the journalists were trying to report on the alleged dismissal of several senior SSS personnel.

back to top


• Three journalists for the private weekly The Chronicle were detained for one day in May and charged with criminal libel in connection with an article alleging that Malawi’s then-attorney general was involved in the theft of a computer.

• General Manager Jika Nkolokosa and reporter Maxwell Ng’ambi of the private media group Blantyre Newspapers Limited were charged with criminal libel in May. The charge stemmed from a December 2005 article in Blantyre’s weekly Malawi News, which alleged that the health minister at that time, Hetherwick Ntaba, was being audited for failing to account for public funds, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

back to top


• In January, a Maputo court convicted Anibal dos Santos Jr., known as Anibalzinho, for the second time in the 2000 murder of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso. He was sentenced to almost 30 years in prison for recruiting Cardoso’s killers. Anibalzinho, who twice escaped from custody, was convicted in absentia in 2003. The Supreme Court had granted him a retrial in December 2004.

• A prosecutor in the western district of Manica ordered three journalists from the community newspaper Mabarwe detained in May after a local businessman accused their paper of defaming him, according to local news reports. They were held for a week, then released without charge.

back to top


• A high-profile criminal case against Madiambal Diagne, editor of the independent daily Le Quotidien, was dropped in May on a procedural issue. Diagne had been charged in connection with articles about alleged executive interference in the judiciary and corruption in the customs service.

• Also in May, attackers beat Pape Cheikh Fall, a correspondent for the private radio station RFM in the central city of Mbacke, with metal cables, causing head and back injuries. RFM’s parent group, Futurs Médias, linked the attack to a report criticizing a local religious leader’s foray into politics.

• Mustapha Sow, managing editor of the private newspaper L’Office, was imprisoned in June for two weeks following a conviction for defaming a local businessman. A court sentenced him to six months; Sow was granted bail after his lawyer filed an appeal.

back to top


• Attorney General Frederick Carew said in February he would not pursue manslaughter charges against Fatmata Hassan, a ruling party member of parliament, three of her children, and two others accused of assaulting journalist Harry Yansaneh in May 2005. A judicial inquest had found that the attack contributed to Yansaneh’s death from kidney failure in July 2005, and ordered the six arrested for manslaughter. But Carew told CPJ there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. At the time of his death, Yansaneh was acting editor of the private daily newspaper For Di People.

• In August, authorities announced they would seek extradition of Hassan’s three children from the United Kingdom on charges that they assaulted Yansaneh with intent to wound. This move followed local and international pressure, which peaked during the July anniversary of Yansaneh’s death.

back to top


• In February, the Johannesburg High Court banned Sunday newspapers from publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, ruling that they were an affront to the dignity of Muslims. A local Muslim group had sought the injunction after one of the cartoons appeared in the independent weekly Mail & Guardian. Ferial Hafferjee, the Mail & Guardian’s editor, received threats after the cartoon appeared.

• The government approved a controversial bill in August that would bring print and broadcast media under the Film and Publications Board and subject them to potential censorship. Local press freedom groups said they would consider a constitutional challenge if parliament approved the bill. In October, the government announced it would delay the bill until 2007 to allow for more consultation, according to news reports.

back to top


• In October, unidentified attackers savagely beat Dimas Dzikodo, managing editor of the critical independent weekly Le Forum de la Semaine, after knocking him from his motorcycle in the capital, Lomé, local sources told CPJ. They sprayed an unidentified liquid from an aerosol can into his face and forced him to drink another liquid, which he managed to spit out. Dzikodo was taken to a hospital. Dzikodo had been previously targeted for his journalistic work, notably in 2003, when he spent two weeks in jail.

back to top


• In February, a court dismissed a criminal case against Fred M’membe, editor of Zambia’s leading daily, The Post, after the state decided not to prosecute. M’membe, a 1995 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, was charged with insulting the president in November 2005. He was released on bail after six hours in police custody.

• Two journalists working for Radio Chikuni, a community station in the southern district of Monze, were arrested and charged in March with publishing “false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public.” The journalists were detained overnight by police and released on bond, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa. The charge stemmed from a broadcast about a young boy found dead after going missing. The body was said to be mutilated, and local residents suspected that the boy was the victim of a ritual killing.