Rights Group Says Guinea-Bissau Restricting Media, Protesters

Posted April 18th, 2012 at 1:05 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

An international human rights group says Guinea-Bissau's military junta is increasingly restricting media and protesters in an attempt to “stifle mounting criticism” within the country and abroad.

Amnesty International Guinea-Bissau expert Marise Castro told VOA that demonstrations have been repressed and soldiers seeking politicians have beaten and threatened their families and associates.

“Since the coup, there has been a kind of witch hunt of politicians, including ministers. As far as we know, most of them seem to be in hiding, but we are concerned about a couple of them whose whereabouts we don't know.”

She also said private radio stations have been taken off the air, and those that do try to broadcast are shut down if they criticize the military.

The military junta said Tuesday it wants to work out a new “constitutional arrangement” for the country, defying international demands to restore the current constitution.

A spokesman for the junta, Lieutenant Colonel Dahba Na Walma, told VOA that its leaders are consulting with opposition parties to try to form a new government.

He said the military command is working with political leaders to create a new solution, which they will present to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

Leaders from ECOWAS met with junta chiefs Monday in the capital, Bissau. Na Walma said ECOWAS agreed to send a technical team to help with the transition back to civilian rule.

ECOWAS and the African Union have rejected last week's coup and are demanding the junta release interim President Raimundo Pereira and former prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior. Mr. Gomes was the leading candidate in a presidential runoff vote that was scheduled for April 29.

Na Walma said the two leaders will remain in custody until a new government is formed and what he calls “proper security conditions” are in place.

Amnesty International's Castro says the group is concerned about conditions at the site where the men are being held, about 60 kilometers north of Bissau.

“The conditions of their detention are quite bad. People who know where they are, I mean the cells and the barracks, have told us that they are infested with mosquitos, there is no sanitation, there is no water.”

Earlier Tuesday, the African Union suspended Guinea-Bissau's membership. In a statement, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said coup leaders are violating the constitution, and urged Guinea-Bissau politicians to avoid involvement in what he called “window dressing” for the takeover.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the United States “strongly” supports ECOWAS efforts to return control of the country's government to civilians.

“We just want to see a return to civilian rule. But certainly we want to see something that is in keeping with democratic standards.”

The runoff election was to replace the late president, Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January after a long illness.

Former prime minister Gomes was to oppose Kumba Yala, a former president who has had strong ties to the military. Mr. Gomes won the first round of voting, but fell just short of a majority and an outright victory.

The country has endured decades of instability marked by numerous coups and coup attempts and the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieria in 2009 by renegade soldiers. Guinea-Bissau has also become a transit point for international drug traffickers.