Two decades after taking office in 1984, President Lansana Conté still showed little tolerance for the press. He was easily irked by the often scathing criticism in the newspapers, so he continued to keep a tight grip on the broadcast media, which remained inaccessible to private investment.
President Conté was re-elected at the end of December 2003 with more than 95 per cent of the vote. The opposition, which boycotted the elections, claimed that fewer than 10 per cent of Guineans voted. Conté had modified the constitution in 2001, eliminating any restriction on the number of presidential terms or the age of candidates.
The lack of political change had implications for freedom of expression. The print media had to cope with governmental abuses and continued to denounce them. But radio and television remained in the government’s hands. Guinea is the last country in western Africa where the state keeps a monopoly of the broadcast media.
The regulatory National Council for Communication (CNC) became more meddlesome. Ten local and foreign newspapers received warnings or were temporarily closed by the council after publishing articles that criticised the president or members of his government. Sale of the pan-African weekly Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent was banned in Guinea in December, a few days before the presidential election.
A journalist imprisoned
Boubacar Yacine Diallo, the founder of the independent bimonthly L’Enquêteur, was sentenced to a year in prison on 7 January 2003. But minutes after sentence was passed, Diallo received a "presidential pardon" and was released. He had been arrested on 19 December 2002 and placed in Conakry prison although Guinean law does not provide for the imprisonment of journalists for press offences. His offence was to have reported the resignation of the national inspector of the armed forces, Col. Mamadou Baldé, who denied the report and blamed it on his detractors.
A journalist detained
Benn Pepito, the editor of the weekly La Lance, was detained on 25 March by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) because of a photo showing President Conté thinner than in the past and supporting himself with a hand on an aide’s shoulder as he walked. Pepito was released in the afternoon, but the photographer, Cellou Diallo, was summoned the next day and questioned for two hours.
Two journalists physically attacked
Soldiers of the presidential guard attacked Azoca Bah, a reporter with the newspaper La Lance, and Aboubacar Akoumba, the editor of the weekly L’Aurore, on 27 June 2003 in Touba, northeast of the capital, confiscating and destroying their equipment and documents. The journalists had tried to cover a march held by supporters of President Conté, but ran into hostility from the demonstrators because of their articles criticising Conté.
A journalist threatened
Bah Mamadou, a reporter with the fortnightly L’Enquêteur, was threatened and his press card and material were confiscated on the orders of Alpha Condé, the president of the opposition Rally of the People of Guinea (RPG), while he was visiting RPG headquarters on 13 April 2003.
Harassment and obstruction
A debate about Guinea’s position on the Iraqi crisis being broadcast live on 20 March 2003 on a new state radio station, Radio Guinée Internationale (RGI), was cut short in mid-programme on the orders of the management of the state broadcasting corporation, Radio-Télévision Guinéenne (RTG). Director Aïssatou Bella Diallo said she had acted at the behest of the communication minister’s chief of staff.
Sale of the newspaper L’Aurore was banned for two hours on 25 June on the orders of the regulatory National Council for Communication (CNC) because of articles critical of Fodé Soumah, one of the leaders of the ruling party. The newspaper’s editor and printer were summoned to the CNC.
The CNC issued a communiqué on 30 June containing "a final warning" and "formal notice" to four newspapers - L’Observateur, L’Aurore, La Sonde and Le Défi. Without citing any articles in particular, the statement talked of "libellous content" and "violations of professional codes and media ethics," and threatened the editors with "disciplinary sanctions in line with the excesses or irregularities observed."
The CNC closed down the weekly Libération and the bi-monthly Le Défi for three months on 5 August because of articles deemed to have libelled transport and public works minister Cellou Dalein Diallo and El Hadj Fodé Soumah, a close associate of the regime.
Sale of the current issue of the pan-African weekly Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent was banned throughout Guinea on 18 December on the grounds that it was not authorised by the ministry for territorial administration and decentralisation. The issue contained a report about Guinea, headlined "Witch-hunt in the army," which referred to a wave of arrests of military officers. It claimed that associates of President Conté were using the arrests to settle personal scores with their enemies in the military. Distribution in Guinea of the Paris-based monthly Africa International was also banned at this time.