BISSAU, GUINEA-BISSAU - Most radio stations in Guinea-Bissau fell silent for 24 hours on Thursday to show solidarity after a crippling attack on Radio Capital FM.
At dawn on July 26, a group of men wearing police uniforms and carrying automatic weapons entered Capital FM’s offices in the capital, Bissau, deputy director Sabino Santos told VOA Portuguese. He said the station’s equipment – including its transmitter, mixing console and computers – were destroyed. Since then, the station has shared news and other content via Facebook.
The privately owned station is an affiliate of Voice of America (VOA), the international news organization that is funded by the U.S. Congress and editorially independent.
On Thursday, outside the Capital FM headquarters in the capital, Bissau, dozens of journalists stood vigil as part of a campaign called Zero Tolerance. The campaign, organized by the Union of Journalists and Technicians of the Guinea-Bissau Media, called for a “day of silence.”
Seven privately owned radio stations in the capital and 23 community radio stations across the West African country suspended all news and other programing.
"We intend to show that the media sector is vital for the development of the country," said Diamantino Domingos Lopes, the trade union’s secretary general. "We ask that we remain silent today to show our displeasure with what is happening in the sector."
Lopes described the attack on Capital FM as "a serious violation of freedom of expression."
The union had set a Wednesday deadline for Guinea-Bissau authorities to respond to its call for accountability and justice.
Police told journalists they are investigating, though no official update has been released and the attackers have not been identified.
The attack on Capital FM was condemned by Guinea-Bissau government officials including Mamadu Serifo Djaquite, minister of the presidency.
Condemnation also came from five of the country’s international partners: the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, the European Union and the United Nations.
In a joint statement issued July 29, the five entities called for authorities to hold perpetrators accountable and “to create and guarantee conditions of security for the media and the necessary protection for journalists to enable them to carry out their work freely.”
Radio Capital FM carries VOA news bulletins and produces a daily live call-in show on which people debate social issues.
Neither VOA nor its content appeared to be a factor in the attack, according to a statement from VOA’s public relations director.
The station has received threats every few months because of its programing, station owner and director Lassana Cassamá told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) earlier this week. Cassamá, who also reports for VOA Portuguese, said the threats were relayed to police.
In June, Serifo Camara, a Capital FM editor, was attacked by armed men just outside the radio station following a late-evening newscast.
Cassamá told CPJ that repairs to the damaged station would cost an estimated 38,000 euros ($44,663).
"There needs to be an investigation into this and for someone to be held accountable," Jonathan Rozen, a senior researcher with CPJ’s Africa program, told VOA.
Rozen, speaking by phone from New York on Thursday, said the attack was part of a troubling series of incidents across the region.
"There are serious concerns for press freedom across West Africa," Rozen said. "They take the form of physically attacking journalists, legal harassment, the leveraging of regulations against the press," all of which have "a chilling effect on the broader press freedom environment."
This article originated with VOA’s Portuguese service. Ansumane So reported from Guinea-Bissau’s capital, Bissau, with Alvaro Andrade contributing from Washington.