Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press; however, the government did not always respect this right. Since Sissoco’s self-inauguration in late February, the United Nations and media watchdogs reported multiple acts of intimidation against media, including state-owned media outlets.
Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them. Journalists working for state-owned media, however, did not operate freely, and internal censorship was common.
Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. Intimidation and harassment of journalist and media outlets increased during the year. For example, after the Guinea-Bissau Television (TGB) did not broadcast Sissoco’s unofficial inauguration in February, soldiers occupied both TGB and Nacional Broadcast Radio and prevented them from operating until new directors were appointed in March. In July armed men in uniform attacked the private radio station Radio Capital and destroyed equipment. The government and some international organizations such as ECOWAS and the African Union criticized the act, but the government took no steps to find those responsible, which contributed to a de facto restriction on freedom of speech.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were cases of censorship in public media. Political considerations often caused journalists to self-censor news content.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored online communications without appropriate legal authority. President Sissoco announced on July 7 that intelligence services would use equipment acquired from abroad to begin monitoring citizen communications and “call to justice” anyone who insulted or defamed another resident of the country. As of December there was no evidence that government had begun monitoring citizen communications.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; the government, however, failed to respect these rights.
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, but the government did not consistently respect the law. Impunity for security forces contributed to an environment of intimidation that restricted freedom of assembly.
In October 2019 opposition parties protested the organization of the presidential election. During the protest a body was found at an opposition party headquarters under unclear circumstances, with protesters claiming the death resulted from police actions. The Ministry of Interior’s investigation found that the body belonged to Demba Balde, leader of the Party for Social Renewal. The Parliamentary Investigation Committee continued investigating the case at year’s end.
In 2018 the Movement of Nonconforming Citizens filed a complaint against the government with the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice for violation of freedom of peaceful protest. The investigation continued as of year’s end.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government through the National Commission of Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, citing COVID-19 prevention measures. The UNHCR office in Bissau facilitated the issuance of refugee cards for all refugees who requested them.
The country hosted thousands of long-term refugees and asylum seekers from Senegal’s Casamance Region. Many residents maintained ethnic and family ties on both sides of the country’s poorly marked northern border with Senegal’s Casamance Region, rendering the nationality and status of many individuals in the area unclear.
Durable Solutions: In 2018 President Jose Mario Vaz granted citizenship to more than 7,000 linguistically and culturally assimilated refugees living in the country for more than 25 years. The decree conformed with international agreements on migration and asylum. Most of these refugees were originally from Senegal’s Casamance Region, with minorities from Liberia and Sierra Leone. UNHCR reported that as of September 2019, the country hosted 7,800 refugees. Until the process was suspended in March due to COVID-10 prevention measures, the government had issued official naturalization identification to 5,507 of these individuals.