21 February 2007

Guinea: Martial Law Imposes Information Blackout

The West African country of Guinea has been in the midst of an information blackout since 12 February 2007, after President Lansana Conté declared martial law in response to widespread protests calling for his resignation.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) says only one music radio station, Nostalgie FM, is still broadcasting in the capital, Conakry. The public broadcaster, Radiodiffusion Télévision Guinéenne (RTG), is only airing press releases issued by army chief of staff General Kefala Camara and reports favourable to the army.

No newspaper has been published in Conakry since martial law was declared. Newspaper editors have been told that their content must be submitted to the military for prior approval. Street vendors are also refusing to distribute newspapers for fear of violating army orders. The Internet has been inaccessible through Guinea's four Internet Service Providers since 13 February. Internet cafés are closed and their owners say they could be raided and ransacked by the army if they try to re-open.

On the day martial law was imposed, private broadcaster Familia FM was forced off the air after 20 armed presidential guards stormed the radio station's offices, reported RSF, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Another private broadcaster, Liberté FM, was forcibly closed on the same day by a presidential guard unit that ransacked its studios, confiscated equipment and arrested two of its employees. Presenter Mohammed Tondon Camara and technician David Camara were held for 24 hours and reportedly physically abused. The attack followed a phone-in programme during which the listeners asked for the departure of President Conté, according to IFJ.

A third station, Private Soleil FM, stopped broadcasting on 12 February after receiving anonymous threats.

The martial law decree bans all demonstrations and meetings, and imposes severe restrictions of movement on the population, reports Human Rights Watch. It also authorises the military to detain or put under house arrest anyone deemed a danger to public security; to conduct searches of private property and monitor all means of communication without a warrant; and to exercise harsh restrictions on the media.

The current crisis began after labour unions declared a nationwide strike in early January to protest deteriorating economic conditions, including rampant inflation and corruption, notes Human Rights Watch. There are reports that more than 100 have died from clashes between security forces and protesters.

According to Freedom House's 2007 global survey of civil liberties, Guinea is considered "Not Free". "Citizens of Guinea cannot change their government democratically. The government controls the national election commission, as well as registration and election procedures. The government has wide powers to bar any communications that insult the president or disturb the peace, and defamation and slander are considered criminal offenses."

Visit these links:

- Human Rights Watch

- RSF

- IFJ

- CPJ

- Freedom House

- AlertNet

- BBC

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