REGIONS:

AUTHORITIES HARASS PRESS OVER REPORTS ON DRUG TRADE

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Amnesty International have called on Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira to stop official harassment of journalists reporting on drug trafficking in the West African country.

At least four journalists have gone into hiding for fear of being killed for their various reports that identified the country's armed forces, especially the marines, as major collaborators in the drug trade. Their reports followed the United Nations naming Guinea-Bissau a key transit point for drug trafficking in Africa.

MFWA sources say the army, outraged by the UN report, began a crackdown on journalists they suspected of distributing such "damaging" information.

Reporter Albert Dabo, a journalist for Reuters, the BBC's French-language service and the private radio station Bombolom FM, was charged on 29 August with libel, violating state secrets, abusing press freedom and colluding with foreign journalists following a complaint from the head of the navy.

Navy chief Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto alleges that Dabo falsely attributed to him a statement admitting high-level official complicity in drug-trafficking during his interview with Britain's ITN News, in which Dabo acted as an interpreter.

Last week, IFJ called on President Vieira to urge Na Tchuto to withdraw his charges against Dabo and to stop military threats against him. Dabo says he has been receiving death threats since June, which led him to briefly go into hiding.

Threats against another reporter who has written about the drug trade have also pushed him into exile. Allen Yéro Emballo, correspondent for Radio International France and for news agency Agence France Presse, fled Guinea-Bissau in July out of fear for his safety after his home was burglarised and he was threatened. Emballo found his home robbed when he returned from an assignment in the archipelago of Bijagos, south of the capital, in June. He was there to investigate packages suspected of holding drugs that had been dropped from airplanes.

According to MFWA, journalists Eva Maria Auzenda Biague and Fernando Jorge Perreira also went into hiding in July after police ordered them to present themselves to the nearest police station for their reports. All four journalists feared they would be detained and tortured at a military camp since the country has no prison facilities.

Human rights activists have accused the authorities of trying to intimidate journalists so they will not investigate their alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

"To show that they are not involved in drug trafficking, the government and army officials should ensure that journalists reporting on drug trafficking can work in total safety and freedom in Guinea-Bissau with unfettered access to information," IFJ said in an appeal to President Vieira.

Guinea-Bissau has recently been in the international spotlight thanks to the UN's 2007 World Drug Report, which named the country a key staging post for cocaine moving from Latin America to Europe. Drug traffickers take advantage of Guinea-Bissau's scant surveillance, government instability and poverty to ply their trade. According to the UN's humanitarian news service IRIN, many soldiers are getting money from drug traffickers in exchange for providing security.

Visit these links:
- MFWA: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/85362/
- IFJ letter to President Vieira: http://tinyurl.com/36kyam
- Amnesty: http://tinyurl.com/2vwh4o
- UN World Drug Report 2007: http://tinyurl.com/2jwffn
- IRIN, "Guinea-Bissau: Fears of an emerging narcostate": http://www.irinnews.org/reporttest.aspx?ReportId=69904
(Photo courtesy of Comunidad Segura)

(11 September 2007)

Latest Tweet:

Discotech hosted by @Info_Activism and @APC_News features Katitza from @EFF on circumvention is not a crime http://t.co/dXO65cPoUX