CPJ condemns media crackdown under martial law in Guinea

New York, February 14, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports of increasing government crackdowns on the media after President Lansana Conté declared martial law on Monday in response to deadly unrest in the country.

112 people have died since union leaders launched a national strike last month to demand the resignation of ailing President Conté, in power since 1984, according to international news reports. An 18-day strike in January was called off by union leaders after President Conté promised to hand over powers to a prime minister, but resumed over the weekend after unions rejected the nomination of Eugene Camara.

A journalist was released from detention, but three of the capital Conakry’s four private radio stations remained off the air late today after a presidential decree, a copy of which CPJ obtained, authorized the military “to take any suitable measures to ensure the control of the press and publications of any nature, as well as radio or television broadcasts…”

“We condemn blanket censorship of the media, the detention of journalists, and the closing of radio stations,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Such actions deny the people of Guinea of free flow of information at a crucial time. We call on the government to lift all restrictions on the media.”

Editor Mohamed Tondon Camara of the private radio station Liberté FM in the capital Conakry was released today after two days of detention in the custody of the presidential guard, according to local journalists. Camara and a staff worker were arrested after their station aired a call-in program where callers asked for the resignation of President Conté, according to the BBC Monitoring Service. Private news web site www.guineenews.org quoted Camara as saying that the release came after the intervention of the president’s brother. The station remained off the air today after armed guards raided the station on Monday, destroying equipment, according to media reports.

Private Familia FM was forced off the air on Monday after 20 armed presidential guards stormed the radio station’s offices, director general Kaleb Kolie told Guineenews. Officials accused the station of “airing strange things,” but the closure is linked to a call-in program on looting in Conakry, according to him. On January 17, Communications Minister Boubacar Yacine Diallo called the station to order the end of the broadcast of an interview of a union leader discussing the repression of public demonstrations by security forces, reporter Kaba Fodé told CPJ. Two days prior, Diallo had ordered all radio stations not to air any reports on the strike and threatened to seize their equipment, according to news reports.

Private Soleil FM went off the air after receiving anonymous threats, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). The radio station’s closure was linked to two call-in programs and followed attacks on its reporters by gangs of youth, according to the BBC Monitoring Service.

The government has also tightened its control over state broadcaster Radio Télévision Guinéenne (RTG). During rebroadcasts of the presidential decree in local languages, the station continuously aired images of military parades while its presenters appeared in studios adorned with paintings glorifying the military, according to the BBC Monitoring Service and CPJ research.

French broadcaster Radio France Internationale’s FM broadcast was suspended for 24 hours on Saturday, according to news reports. But the station’s management denied any government involvement in the hiatus, citing “technical reasons”, according to AFP. Last month, RFI reporter Cyril Bensimon required eye surgery after being injured by a street protester in a suburb of Conakry, according to the same source.

Last year, Guinea became the last country in West Africa to allow private broadcasting, ending a 48-year-long state broadcasting monopoly.