New York, February 8, 2022 — Authorities in Guinea Bissau must thoroughly investigate the latest attack on broadcaster Radio Capital FM, ensure the safety of its staff, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
At around 10 a.m. on Monday, a group of about four unidentified men fired guns at the privately owned broadcaster’s headquarters in Bissau, the capital, and then broke into the office and ransacked it, according to media reports and Radio Capital FM program host Sabino Santos and owner and director Lassana Cassamá, both of whom spoke to CPJ in phone interviews and via messaging app.
The attackers, some in military uniforms and others in civilian clothes, shot and destroyed broadcasting equipment throughout the office, according to those sources.
The men openly discussed whether to kill the station’s staff members, but one of the men ordered that no one be harmed, Santos and Cassamá said. The staff members on the premises were able to flee, but several sustained injuries while escaping over the two-meter wall surrounding the building, they said.
A police officer guarding the station fled as soon as the attack began, according to Santos and Cassamá.
The station often reports critically on the government of President Umaro Sissoco Embaló, and that morning had hosted a call-in show for listeners to comment on the country’s failed February 1 coup attempt, Santos said.
Police have been stationed at the broadcaster following an attack in July 2020, when unidentified armed men smashed its broadcast equipment. Authorities have not identified any suspects in that attack, Santos and Cassamá told CPJ.
“Authorities in Guinea-Bissau must ensure that this time around, those responsible for attacking Radio Capital FM and terrorizing its journalists and media workers are arrested and held to account,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “The continued impunity for attacks on journalists in Guinea-Bissau has given armed thugs the license, once again, to destroy equipment and force off air a radio station critical of the government of President Umaro Sissoco Embaló, believing that there will be no consequences.”
Administrative assistant Binghate Martins was at the broadcaster during the raid and told CPJ in a phone interview that the attackers forced him to lie on the ground, fired gunshots near his feet, and beat him on his back with rifles.
Reporters Maimuna Bari, Bala Sambú, and Ansumane Sow, radio technicians Lassana Djassi, Bakar Kuiaté, and Alssene Kandé, and administrative worker Sana Mancal sustained injuries as they escaped over the wall surrounding the radio station, according to Santos.
He said that Bari sustained a suspected spinal contusion and remained hospitalized; Djassi broke a leg, Sow broke an arm, and the others suffered minor injuries.
Sow told CPJ in a phone call that he broke his right arm when he slipped and fell trying to climb the wall as attackers fired their initial shots outside the building. He was treated at a private clinic in Bissau, he said.
Hearing gunshots at the radio station was “particularly horrible and traumatic” after he had reported on the February 1 coup attempt, Sow said.
Santos told CPJ that the attackers shot nine computers, two sound mixing tables, and all of the station’s security cameras, and the attack lasted about five minutes.
“Their intentions to wreck the equipment were clear,” he said, adding at the broadcaster was off the air indefinitely due to a lack of functioning equipment.
Santos said the national judicial police sealed the station to investigate the attack, and he could not predict when they would release the premises or when the station would be back online.
The deputy director of the judicial police, Cornélia Viera, told CPJ in a phone interview that she did not know when the premises would be unsealed, as it would depend on when the investigation was completed. She said she could not comment further as the case was under investigation.
In comments to journalists yesterday, the deputy commissioner of the public order police, Salvador Soares, described the attack as “an isolated act.” Santos disagreed with that framing, asking, “how is this an isolated act if the Ministry of Interior has had two officers at the door since the last attack?”
Indira Baldé, head of the local journalists’ trade union SINJOTECS, told CPJ via messaging app that the attack “goes to show journalists are not safe while doing our jobs in Guinea-Bissau.”
Last year, Santos also faced a criminal defamation investigation over his work, along with Radio Capital FM host Sumba Nancil. The case was later dropped for lack of evidence, Santos said.