Throughout the year the private-sector press was threatened and pressurised by the political and military authorities. Two editors of the daily Diario de Bissau were severely harassed and two publications were closed down without any explanation.
Guinea-Bissau has still not recovered from the multiple coups d’état and armed conflict in the past few years. In October 2001 parliament withdrew its trust in President Kumba Yala. A few days later he threatened to dissolve parliament "for ten years" if its members did not "behave themselves".
The private sector press is trying to survive in this general context of political and economic crisis. Most titles are no longer able to appear regularly and privately-owned radio stations are on the edge of bankruptcy due to a lack of advertising. The public sector media are hardly better off. Employees of the RTGB, the national broadcasting company, went on several strikes during the year to demand better working conditions and payment of their salaries. Some RTGB journalists and technicians have not been paid for nearly two years.
Independent journalists are viewed in a very critical light by the country’s leaders. On 8 March about 30 journalists, exasperated by constant pressure, signed a motion "against censorship and detention without trial of journalists practising their profession in Guinea-Bissau". The new state prosecutor, Caetano N’Tchama, violently attacked the press as soon as he came into office in September 2001, directly threatening certain journalists and ordering the closure of two privately-owned publications. In March 2001 Caetano N’Tchama had been dismissed from his post as prime minister by President Kumba Yala.
Five journalists arrested
Athizar Mendes, journalist with the privately-owned daily Diario de Bissau, along with a photographer from the daily and their driver, were detained during the night of 15 February 2001 for wanting to investigate repeated summonses by the police of two diplomats in the country.
In May two journalists from the public sector TV channel RTGB were arrested and detained for 48 hours on orders of the prime minister. They had broadcast a communiqué by a political party accusing the head of government of being "corrupt and tribalistic".
Agents from the secret police arrested Joao de Barros and Athizar Mendes, managing editor and journalist of the daily Diario de Bissau, on 17 June. The two journalists were detained for 48 hours for publishing a story headed "Kumba Yala and corruption". The daily denounced the president’s involvement in a network of senior civil servants who allegedly misappropriated millions of CFA francs in public monies. On 26 June Joao de Barros said in an interview with a local radio station that he had received direct threats from the president. On 14 November the two journalists were again arrested briefly on orders of the state prosecutor. No details were given as to the reasons for these arrests. Questioned on this affair, President Kumba Yala accused the press of "adding fuel to the flames".
Pressure and obstruction
The airforce chief-of-staff, Brigadier-General Melciades Lopes Fernandes, burst into the studio of the privately-owned radio station Bombolom FM during a programme on 30 March 2001 of about some 100 soldiers jailed for allegedly participating in the abortive coup on 23 November 2000. The officer threatened the journalists present at the time. The next day, during the recording of a programme broadcast on the public sector radio and television RTGB, soldiers challenged journalists invited to participate. "The period of tolerance has ended" said the brigadier-general before specifying that he had filed a complaint against a Bombolom FM journalist. He added that in case of war this radio station would be "the first target". During the debate other members of the military said that "journalists, by addressing certain topics, simply prepare the population for another war". Parliament, on the initiative of the opposition PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), publicly condemned these words.
On 8 September the state prosecutor Caetano N’Tchama went to the private station Radio Pidjiquiti to demand the recordings of a programme broadcast on the same day. During the programme several local journalists had commented on news during the week and especially the recent appointment of the state prosecutor by the president. The journalists questioned President Kumba Yala’s motives. When the staff refused to give him the tapes, the prosecutor, accompanied by two armed soldiers, threatened to arrest them. The next day he sent his bodyguard to again threaten them.
On 27 October the state prosecutor ordered the closure of the privately-owned station Diario de Bissau and the weekly Gazeta de Noticias for "irregular activities". Caetano N’Tchama accused these publications of disturbing "peace and stability" in the country and "violating state secrets". Caeteno N’Tchama threatened to close the private sector radio stations Bombolom FM and Radio Pidjiquiti if they did not regularise "their administrative and legal situation within two weeks". On 18 December the managing editor of Diario de Bissau, Joao de Barros, reopened the newspaper Correio de Bissau which had shut down five years earlier.