On February 9, the public prosecutor’s office issued a summons to Radio Capital FM asking for a representative to present themselves for questioning, but did not specify why, according to Sumba Nansil, co-host of the “Tira Teimas” current affairs show on the broadcaster, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and a copy of the summons, which CPJ reviewed.
Capital FM owner and director Lassana Cassamá was out of the country at the time and Nansil responded to the summons on the station’s behalf, and was questioned by the public prosecutor’s office on February 16, the journalist told CPJ. On March 5, the office also summoned and questioned Sabino Santos, host of the station’s “Debate Nacional” program, Santos told CPJ in a phone interview.
Prosecutors questioned each journalist about comments they had made on-air and in media interviews about the state-run National Energy and Water Company (EAGB), which had filed a criminal defamation complaint against the station to authorities, Nansil said.
Nansil and Santos told CPJ that they had publicly noted that their station’s EAGB electrical meter had malfunctioned shortly before Radio Capital FM’s office was raided and vandalized on July 26, 2020, thereby disabling its security systems.
“Guinea-Bissau authorities should drop their criminal defamation investigation into Radio Capital FM and its journalists, and should let the outlet report freely,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “The country should scrap its obsolete criminal defamation laws, and ensure that there are proper civil remedies to such issues, in line with the trend across Africa and the rest of the world.”
Under Article 126 of Guinea Bissau’s penal code, criminal defamation convictions can carry fines and prison sentences of up to one year; according to Article 127, if an offense is deemed to have been committed by an outlet as a whole, the prison term for those deemed responsible can increase to 18 months. The fine is set at a judge’s discretion and can total several thousand dollars, Luis Martins, a lawyer for Radio Capital FM, told CPJ via messaging app.
Martins said that both journalists were placed under travel restrictions while the defamation investigation is underway. Nansil and Santos are required to notify authorities if they intend to leave the capital, Bissau, for more than five days, according to Santos and news reports.