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GOVERNMENT SHUTS DOWN NEWSPAPERS AS UN VOICES CONCERN

Amidst concerns expressed by the United Nations Security Council over the political situation in Guinea-Bissau, the government has ordered two independent newspapers to shut down operations, report the West African Journalist's Association (WAJA) and Reporters sans frontières (RSF). In a public statement released on 29 October, WAJA condemned the decision to close down "Diario de Bissau" and "Gazeta de Noticias" and urged the government to "work towards defusing the destructive atmosphere that predominates in the country." WAJA added that the government may also close down two independent radio stations – "Radio Pindjiguiti" and "Bombolom".

According to RSF, the state prosecutor, Caetano N'Tchama, ordered the shut down of "Diario de Bissau" and "Gazeta de Noticias" because the publications were accused of "violating official secrets" and "disturbing the country's peace and stability." RSF notes that on 8 September, N'Tchama had personally gone to the offices of "Radio Pindjiguiti " and threatened to arrest staff unless they handed over material from a recent programme. According to RSF, the programme had raised questions about his recent appointment as state prosecutor by the president of Guinea-Bissau.

The United Nations Security Council has urged the government to respect the country's constitution and its judiciary, following President Kumba Yalla's comments last week in which he said he planned to replace 60 per cent of the country's civil servants with members of his own political party, reports the BBC. Earlier, Yalla had fired three Supreme Court judges, accusing them of being "false, corrupt and mediocre," notes the BBC. Yalla has also ordered police to shoot any politicians who attempt to use the army against him or enter military barracks.

Freedom House's 2001 Press Freedom Survey characterises Guinea-Bissau's media as "partly free." Last year, the chief editor of the national radio station RDN was sacked after the station reported on the difficulties faced by journalists in the country, according to the survey. And while press freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, "journalists practice self-censorship." For more information, see www.freedomhouse.org/ratings/index.htm, www.ujao.org and www.rsf.fr.


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