August 16, 2007

Help Those Who Risk Their Lives for Free Speech

Guinea-Bissau: Intimidation and Harassment of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders Must Stop

Amnesty International is greatly concerned about reports of the intimidation and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders because of their coverage of drug trafficking in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau. The organization has received information that four journalists as well as a leading human rights defender, Mario Sa Gomez have all gone into hiding for fear of being arrested and possibly tortured. Mario Sa Gomes also fears that he could be killed.

The Republic of Guinea-Bissau has recently been in the international spotlight due to reports of drug trafficking in the country. Following the United Nations 2007 World Drug Report naming Guinea-Bissau a major trafficking and transit point for drugs, the four journalists; Allen Yéro Embalo, Alberto Dabo, Eva Maria Auzenda Biague and Fernando Jorge Perreira;published various reports implicating high ranking civil and military officials in the drug trafficking. According to information received by Amnesty International, these reports led military officials to go on national radio asking Allen Yéro Embalo and Alberto Dabo to appear on national radio to publicly deny their reports. When they failed to do this an announcement was made, apparently by the military again, asking all four journalists to report to the nearest police station. The four went into hiding shortly after this announcement, fearing they would be arrested and possibly tortured.

In July 2007, Mario Sa Gomes, a human rights defender in Guinea-Bissau, publicly stated on national radio that the most effective way of tackling drug trafficking in the country was to immediately dismiss all the civil and military officials implicated in the drug trafficking. According to reports the army chief demanded a public apology from Mario Sa Gomes, which he refused to give. As a result, a warrant was reportedly issued for Mario's arrest and Mario went into hiding fearing for his life.

Amnesty International is concerned about the harassment and intimidation of these journalists and the human rights defender, which amounts to a violation of their right to freedom of expression and the right of all to receive information. These rights are contained in the Constitution of Guinea-Bissau, the Guinea-Bissau Freedom of the Press Law and in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (African Charter) to which Guinea-Bissau is a state party, as well as other international human rights treaties and standards including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The organization calls upon the authorities to respect the international human rights treaties to which the country is a party and international standards such as the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa which, although not legally binding, contains principles that all member states to the African Charter should apply in practice. The government of Guinea-Bissau should ensure that no one is subjected to any sanction for releasing in good faith information on wrongdoing in accordance with the Declaration. Furthermore, the government should ensure that attacks such as the intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and human rights defenders should be stopped as these undermine independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public. The Declaration acknowledges that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute. However, it states that any restrictions on the freedom should be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society. As far as Amnesty International is aware there is no legal restriction on the reporting of drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau law.

Amnesty International is also concerned about the fear of the journalists that, if arrested, they could be subjected to torture, as well as Mario Sa Gomes' fear for his life. Amnesty International calls upon the government of Guinea-Bissau to act in accordance with their national and international human rights obligations by ensuring they respect and protect the right to liberty, bodily integrity and right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment contained in the Constitution of Guinea-Bissau, the African Charter and the ICCPR, as well as other international human rights treaties to which the country is a party.

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