State regulators in the Guinean capital, Conakry, summarily suspended two private newspapers on Monday and barred their journalists from practice for three months. Local journalists and news reports say the bans were connected to December articles critical of top government officials.
The state-run National Communications Council accused private weeklies La Vérité and L’Observateur of “continually publishing insulting, contemptuous, and defamatory articles” of a nature to “manipulate public opinion,” according to the same sources. The ruling did not identify the incriminating articles beyond their dates, but threatened to withdraw employees’ press cards should they practice journalism in defiance of the ban.
“CPJ calls on the council to lift these arbitrary suspensions immediately,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “There is a worrying trend in Guinea of punishing newspapers who dare uncover political wrongdoing.”
According to La Vérité editor Baïla Ba, the ruling concerned stories published last week accusing presidential aide Sam Mamadi Soumah of falsifying a decree intended to restructure the government. The decree awarded his own office sweeping powers on government affairs, triggering public controversy after ailing President Lansana Conté signed it on December 5, according to news reports. Soumah did not publicly comment on the allegations, but the government said an “error” with respect to the powers attributed to Soumah had “slipped in” the decree, according to an official statement released on Tuesday.
L’Observateur’s editorial director, Mouctar Diallo told CPJ that the ruling was political retaliation for the paper’s critical coverage of the administration of Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté, including a December 17 editorial trumpeting a high-profile scandal involving Conakry Gov. Malick Sankhon.
The council has used summary suspensions to silence critical coverage of the government in recent years, according to CPJ research. In October, it suspended the bi-monthly La Nouvelle for a month over a story titled “National Army heading towards another mutiny,” according to Ghana-based press freedom group the Media Foundation of West Africa. In 2006 alone, the council slapped four private newspapers with two-month suspensions.
The private press in the world’s top bauxite exporter remains weakened by political and financial pressures, including crippling printing costs, ethnic divisions, and low levels of training, according to CPJ research. Authorities did not allow the first private broadcasters on the air until 2006.