Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media; however, the government did not always respect this right. Since President Sissoco’s self-inauguration in February 2020, the United Nations and media watchdogs reported multiple acts of intimidation against media, including state-owned media outlets.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other 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 remained a problem during the year.
On March 9, in Bissau, a group of four unidentified men abducted, robbed, and beat unconscious journalist António Aly Silva, who wrote articles critical of President Sissoco and ran a news website that frequently posted content critical of the government. The Guinean Human Rights League filed a complaint with judicial police on Silva’s behalf. The public prosecutor began an investigation into the attack, the results of which remained pending at year’s end.
On March 12, in Bissau, five armed men in plain clothes allegedly attacked and tried to abduct Adao Ramalho, a reporter for a local radio station, while he stood in front of the presidential palace reporting on the recent return to Bissau of exiled opposition leader Domingos Simoes Pereira (see section 1.e., Misuse of International Law Enforcement Tools). The men reportedly beat Ramalho with their rifles, punched and kicked him, and allegedly tried to pull him into a vehicle. Ramalho and bystanders identified one of the attackers as a member of the presidential guard force. The public prosecutor launched an investigation, which remained pending at year’s end.
On July 21, a Coast Guard officer assaulted and detained Emerson Gomes, a presenter and trainee journalist at Djan-Djan Community Radio in Bubaque, a town in the country’s Bijagos archipelago, accusing the outlet of spreading false news. The officer reportedly beat and detained Gomes at the Coast Guard regional office in Bubaque. Gomes allegedly suffered injuries from the assault and required hospitalization. The Coast Guard detained the alleged attacker for one week. The Coast Guard reportedly apologized to Gomes for the assault by one of its officers, launched an internal disciplinary review, and provided some funding for Gomes’s medical expenses. The results of the internal disciplinary review were not available at year’s end.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were cases of censorship in public media. Political considerations often caused journalists to self-censor news content.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; the government, however, failed to respect these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
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 others from Liberia and Sierra Leone.
UNHCR reported that as of August 31, the country hosted 1,851 refugees. After suspending the issuance of naturalization and identification cards in March due to COVID-19 prevention measures, the government resumed providing the cards in September. The government reported providing official naturalization identification to 5,307 individuals and 4,280 identification cards to eligible new Bissau-Guineans over the age of eight.