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Communications council lifts ban on coverage of rocket attack on president's residence

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, July 28, 2011 - Censorship of the press by the government of Guinean President Alpha Condé threatens the democratic strides made by the country in recent months, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The Condé-appointed chair of Guinea's state-run media regulatory agency, the National Communications Council (CNC), lifted today a ban imposed since Monday on media coverage of the July 19 rocket attack on Condé's private residence in the capital, Conakry, according to local journalists and news reports. The United States has condemned the rocket attack, while praising the president for "working hard to establish democratic institutions."

Speaking to France's state-funded international broadcaster Radio France Internationale this evening, CNC President Martine Condé (no relation to the president) said the ban was lifted under the condition that "there be no excesses." The CNC's ban had silenced talk and debate shows on private radio and television stations where listeners raised critical questions about the circumstances of the attack that left one person dead and the president unscathed, according to local journalists. Thirty-eight suspects, both civilian and military officers, are in custody, according to news reports.

Speaking to CPJ on Wednesday, the CNC president accused the talk and debate programs of inciting "tensions." "We want to avoid what has happened in other countries like Rwanda," she told CPJ, referring to the government-sponsored hate media that fanned the 1994 genocide.

The CNC has also imposed since June 10 a two-month suspension on Le Défi, a private newspaper critical of Condé's government, over a column that criticized controversial public remarks by the country's ombudsman, Gen. Facinet Touré, about the Peul ethnic group, according to Ghana-based press freedom organization Media Foundation for West Africa. Touré, a presidential appointee, took office pledging to advance national reconciliation and unity as a basis for democratization, but declared that political power in Guinea be kept away from the Peul because they controlled the economy of the country, according to CPJ research. Unidentified assailants then ransacked the offices of Le Défi on July 20.

The government has also suspended without explanation presenter Yamoussa Sidibé of the Condé-controlled public broadcaster Radio Télévision de Guinée since July 17, according to local journalists and news reports.

"This censorship by the government threatens the democratic progress made by the country in recent months," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on President Condé to end these restrictions."

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