February 7, 2023 marks one year since radio Capital FM was attacked by unidentified men in uniform in Bissau, capital of Guinea Bissau. One year on it remains paralysed, with justice a distant dream.
The attack was short, clinical and devastating. The marauding armed men overpowered police officers keeping guard at the premises of the radio station and stormed the studio. They shot several bullets into the studio equipment, consoles, mixers and computers, reducing the studio to a wreckage. They also fired random shots to intimidate the staff, sending them scurrying to safety, all in a matter of five minutes.
In the ensuing stampede, some seven personnel were injured. These included journalists Bala Sambú and Ansumane Sow, technicians Lassana Djassi, Bakar Kuiaté and Alssene Kandé as well as administrative worker Sana Mancal. Another journalist, Maimuna Bari, fell from the first floor to the ground, suffering spine injuries. She was evacuated to Portugal for emergency medical care.
It has been a year of impunity for that crime and dwindling hopes for justice for the owners, management, staff and listeners of Radio Capital FM, one of Guinea Bissau’s biggest media platforms.
In the wake of the attack, the MFWA and its 15-partner press freedom organisations across West Africa petitioned President Umaro Sissoco Embalo to intervene and ensure justice and adequate protection for the beleaguered media house and its staff. There has been no reaction to the petition letter which was delivered physically at the Office of the President.
It was the second time in two and half years that gunmen had wreaked havoc on Radio Capital. In July 2020, the station was attacked also by a group of unknown armed men in uniform who targeted and destroyed its studio equipment.
Following the incident, Interior Minister, Botchá Candé met with the management of Capital Radio promising to open investigations into the attack. Although the police cordoned off the premises of the media house to take evidence as part of the investigations, no suspects were arrested and no update was ever given to either the public or the owners of Radio Capital FM.
“The lack of accountability for the 2020 attack on Radio Capital FM is the unmistakable incentive for the second attack. Unfortunately, one year on, neither of the incidents has been adequately investigated, with the victims still waiting for apparently elusive justice. Given that both attacks were carried out by men clad in military uniforms, it is imperative for the authorities to do everything possible to identify them in order to prove that the perpetrators acted alone or are impostors. The Guinea Bissau authorities must therefore act and be seen to act with urgency in that regard,” said Muheeb Saeed, Programme Manager for Freedom of Expression at the MFWA.
Meanwhile, the Management of the station has moved to new premises after their alarmed landlords terminated their tenancy following the second attack. On October 12, 2022, a delegation from the MFWA and its partner organisation in Guinea Bissau, SINJOTECS, paid a visit to the new premises of the radio station. The MFWA team was led by Muheeb Saeed and included Nuno Andrade Ferraira, the lead consultant for the MFWA’s EU-funded media development project in Guinea Bissau as well as Daisy Prempeh, the MFWA’s Officer leading the said project. The visit was to show solidarity with the beleaguered radio station, discuss its challenges and capacity needs and explore ways to get the station back on air.
In late December 2022, Radio Capital FM began test transmission online, as it readied itself to return to full operation. However, on January 11, 2023, the authorities ordered it to cease broadcasting or risk prosecution for operating without a license. Radio Capital FM was one of 79 radio stations shut down in 2022 over accumulated licence fee debts. It is the only one of the affected stations that remains shut.
From the first attack to the latest, to the licensing issues, the eviction from their premises and the recent abortive return to the airwaves, Radio Capital FM has certainly endured a long night of severe trial. On the one-year anniversary of the February 7, 2022 attack, the MFWA and our partner in Guinea Bissau, SINJOTECS, salute the stoic forbearance of the Management and staff of the distressed Radio Capital FM.
We renew our call on the Guinea Bissau authorities to meet the station half-way in respect of the settlement of the debts owed to the regulatory body. We also urge the government to ensure an end to the impunity surrounding the two armed attacks on the radio station by doing everything possible to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators.