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Bissau police gets tough on journalists

afrol News, 19 July - In Guinea-Bissau, which lately has experienced very few attacks on press freedom, a special unit of the police prevented a journalist from taking photographs of a police operation and seized the journalist's camera. The press fear tougher times may come.

A group of policemen who are members of the "Ninjas", a special unit of the Guinea-Bissau police earlier this month prevented Helmazin Cunha, a journalist working with the 'Nô Pintcha' pro-government newspaper from taking photographs of an operation they undertook to clear hawkers off the streets.

A correspondent working for the regional media watchdog Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) reported that the "Ninjas" also had seized the journalist's camera. The correspondent said the policemen asked him to apologise for not obtaining permission before taking the photographs. The camera was subsequently returned to him.

During the last four years, press freedom has been flourishing in the impoverished state, only hindered by vast numbers of analphabetics, lack of a sizable media market and a totally run-down infrastructure. The last transition government and the current democratically elected government have respected press freedom and let media openly criticise them.

But media professionals in Guinea-Bissau know they still have to act carefully when it comes to the country's security forces, which have a violent and authoritarian history. This month's attack on a journalist by the "Ninjas" therefore did not come as a surprise.

Meanwhile, the Bissau-Guinean government since 2003 has respected press freedom, and media watchdogs have not registered government attacks against the press since former President Kumba Yala was ousted from power.

Attacks on the press were especially heavy in the last year of Mr Yala's presidency. In 2003, several journalists were detained and a number of media were shut down, including the opposition 'Radio Bombolom FM'. President Yala also barred the Portuguese television station 'RTP' from broadcasting in Guinea-Bissau - a decision reversed by later office holders.

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