Guinea Bissau: Three months on, impunity persists over assault on critical activist

More than three months after lawyer and political commentator for Bissau-based private broadcaster, Rádio Bombolom, Marcelino Intupé, was physically assaulted, no perpetrators have been brought to book.

His suspected assailants, including a presidential guard, have been walking free in flagrant impunity.

Intupé went into hiding on December 9, 2022, fearing for his safety after unidentified men arrived at his home for the third time. Earlier on December 5, armed men had opened fire on Intupé’s home following a press conference in which he identified Tcherno Bari, head of security of the Guinean President, as a leading perpetrator of an attack on him.

On November 29, 2022, a group of unidentified armed men in plainclothes had physically assaulted and abducted Intupé from his home in Bissalanca, near Bissau. The assailants allegedly hit the victim on the head with their rifle causing him to bleed. They subsequently dragged him into a van and drove away.

Some members of Intupé’s family, who witnessed the incident, followed the abductors’ vehicle and tried desperately to raise alarm. The armed men eventually stopped their van, took Intupé onto the street and kicked him repeatedly. Intupé was later taken to the Main Military Hospital in Bissau to receive treatment.

Speaking to the President of the Sindicato de Jornalistas e Tecnicos de Comunicação Social (SINJOTECS), MFWA’s partner in Guinea-Bissau, the political analyst said that his assailants, who were not hooded, questioned him.  Intupé was able to recognise Mr. Bari, who identified himself as “Tcheninho.”

According to the political commentator, Mr. Bari also asked, “who authorised you to make that video?” an apparent reference to a video footage of a programme that was hosted earlier, on the same day of the attack and posted on Facebook.

A critical commentator on Guinea-Bissau’s political and legal affairs on Radio Bombolom FM, Marcelino Intupé had commented on some current affairs, including a march attended by Tcherno Bari during Alô Guiné (Hello Guinea), a weekly radio show on the country’s current affairs.

Intupé, in the same radio programme, also made comments about the creation of an ad hoc court for the trial of the suspects involved in the coup attempt of February 1, 2022. He is the lawyer  representing 18 of the 25 people detained for alleged involvement in the coup.

On December 21, 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, called on the government of Guinea-Bissau to indicate the measures taken to guarantee the safety of Intupé in the exercise of his profession as a lawyer in Guinea-Bissau, specifically in connection with the trial of the suspects involved in the coup attempt of February 1, 2022.

Meanwhile, Intupé has told the MFWA in a chat on a messaging platform that he does not believe that the government would make any efforts to assure his safety, and so he has taken the precaution of leaving the jurisdiction for the time being.

This incident adds to a growing culture of impunity in Guinea-Bissau, with intimidations, abductions and attacks on critical voices becoming common. In most cases, the perpetrators of such acts were neither identified nor prosecuted for their deeds.

For instance, on October 10, 2022, the acting manager of private radio station Galáxia, Tiano Badjana, took shelter at the premises of the Catholic Mission in the capital Bissau, for about a month, after a group of armed men in police uniforms went to the radio station and subsequently to his residence to inquire about him, but did not find him. Earlier the same day, the radio station based in Pindjiguiti, a neighbourhood in the capital, had broadcasted a report about an alleged case of drug trafficking implicating a public official.

On February 8, 2022, armed men attacked the home of Rui Landim, a popular radio panellist and political analyst. The assailants, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, opened fire at the gate of Landim’s residence after trying in vain to break down a section of the fence. The attackers also threw tear gas into the compound.  A day before the attack on the political analyst and his family, Landim was part of a panel during “Pontos nos Ís” (Dot on the I’s), a programme hosted by Radio Capital FM, where he made an analysis of the political situation in Guinea-Bissau.

On March 9, 2021, some unidentified attackers kidnapped and assaulted journalist and blogger Antonio Aly Silva before abandoning him. They also seized his mobile phone.

While condemning these violations, the MFWA is encouraged by the fact that President Umaro Sissoco Embaló has reacted to the latest incident. In a post on his official Facebook page, the President of Guinea-Bissau, condemned the “barbaric act of violence” against Intupé saying that such cases of “violence constitute a threat to social peace” in the country. The president also urged the relevant authorities to investigate the incident.

We join President Umaro Sissoco Embaló in strongly condemning the physical assault and attack on the lawyer and political commentator and call on the authorities to thoroughly investigate the issue.

Meanwhile, we think it would be proper for the President to suspend Tcherno Bari from his role as a presidential guard pending investigations.

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