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CPJ alarmed by closure of independent radio broadcaster

(CPJ/IFEX) - In a 25 February 2003 letter to President Kumba Yala of Guinea-Bissau, CPJ expressed alarm at the government's closure of Radio Bombolom, Guinea-Bissau's main independent news broadcaster, in the latest attempt to silence critical voices ahead of general elections scheduled for 20 April.

On 13 February, police shuttered Radio Bombolom's offices, forcing the broadcaster off the air. The Ministry of Information accused the station of "broadcasting false information that could jeopardize national sovereignty and the stability of the country."

Radio Bombolom is known for its news and discussion programs, during which participants frequently criticize the ruling Social Renewal Party. Sources in the capital, Bissau, told CPJ that the station's closure is likely related to a 28 January broadcast of a debate among civic leaders that Bombolom hosted. During the program, João Vaz Mané, vice president of the Guinean Human Rights League (LGDH), called President Yala a "source of instability" in the country and accused him of mismanaging Guinea-Bissau's resources. Mané was arrested the following day and detained by police for three weeks without charge.

Radio Bombolom's closure follows the arrests of several opposition members and outspoken critics of the government and seems to be a part of an ongoing effort to stifle independent news media that question or criticise the president's rule.

In early December 2002, authorities banned the Portuguese radio and television broadcaster Radiotelevisão Portuguesa (RTP) after the station aired a program about General Ansumane Mané, who had led an unsuccessful coup in November 2000 and was killed shortly thereafter. The program included coverage of an Amnesty International report calling for an inquiry into Mané's death. The government accused RTP of broadcasting "information that could tarnish the good image of Guinea-Bissau abroad and could foment anger within the country."

RTP bureau chief João Pereira da Silva was expelled from the country. The Portuguese government continues to negotiate with the government to reopen RTP and allow da Silva's return to Guinea-Bissau.

In April 2002, Guinean Attorney General Caetano Ntchama banned all media from publishing or broadcasting any information from the LGDH. And in October 2001, Ntchama ordered the closure of the private newspapers "Diario de Bissau" and "Gazeta de Noticias", accusing them of "undermining the nation's independence, integrity and national unity." Local journalists said that these acts of censorship came in reprisal for the newspapers' and human rights organisation's criticism of the government.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to the president:
- noting that the information void caused by Radio Bombolom's closure will greatly hamper Guinea-Bissau citizens' ability to make informed decisions about their government during the upcoming elections
- calling on him to do everything within his power to ensure that Radio Bombolom is allowed to resume broadcasting, and that Guinean media are able to operate freely without fear of reprisal from authorities

Appeals To

President Kumba Yala
C/o Mr. Henrique da Silva
Chargé d'affaires ad interim of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau
15929 Yukon Lane, Rockville, MD 20855
Fax: +301 947 3958

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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