May 21, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

“Our country needs to be firmer with the criminals who intimidate journalists” – editor who was attacked over articles about drug trafficking

Diário de Bissau owner and publisher João de Barros, a pioneer of independent journalism in Bissau, was attacked inside the newspaper’s premises on 15 May by a businessman he believes to be linked to drug traffickers. Before leaving, the businessman and his driver smashed all the computers in the newsroom. Reporters Without Borders is today publishing De Barros’ account of this incident and the background to it. “This attack on De Barros is not an isolated and insignificant act,” Reporters Without Borders said, pointing out that at least two journalists were forced to flee abroad last year and another one already this year. “This is just the latest example of the taboos imposed on the local press and the repressive climate in which journalists operate in this former Portuguese colony.” The press freedom organisation added: “The few journalists who dare to defy the code of silence and denounce the drug traffickers and their civilian and military accomplices risk serious reprisals, all the more so as impunity prevails. We urge the authorities to bring those responsible for this violence to justice.” In a November 2007 report entitled “Cocaine and coups haunt gagged nation” about the constant threat to Guinea-Bissau’s journalists from drug traffickers and their accomplices, Reporters Without Borders asked the armed forces to ensure that those responsible for these threats and acts of intimidation were identified and punished. No effective measures were taken. Assault and ransacking of newsroom I received a phone call on 15 May from the businessman Armando Dias Gomes saying he was waiting for me at my newspaper. I was not supposed to go to the office that day but I decided I would go all the same. When I opened the door, I found Dias inside with his driver. He began to insult me and make death threats against me. Two of the journalists I work with every day, who happened to be there during the incident, were also insulted and threatened. I know this attack was due to the fact that my newspaper had published several articles about drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau. It was the latest, by reporter Adulai Indjai, that seems to have prompted Dias’ anger. Headlined “Guinea-Bissau, a supposed narco-state,” this investigative article focused on the direct victims of drug traffickers in our country but did not name any names. Dias, who is a close friend of the drug traffickers, told me he felt targeted by this article and that he did not want to see any reports in my newspaper about drug traffickers and the business they are involved in. We fought. I was not physically injured but I have a mark on my neck because my assailants tried to strangle me. They also attacked our equipment. They threw the ten or so computers, the hard disks and the printer to the ground. This was the equipment I used to run my newspaper. My business is now paralysed and I can no longer work. The newspaper’s future I am behaving as if nothing happened. I am not going to be stopped by this attack. I have been threatened by politicians in my country for more than 20 years. Two of my newspapers, O Expresso Bissau and O Correio da Guiné-Bissau, were already closed in the 1990s for political reasons. I have filed a complaint and I am awaiting the trial. My two assailants were held for nine hours at the headquarters of the Bissau judicial police. But then they were unfortunately released, under pressure from the drug traffickers, I suppose. I would now like to recover my computer equipment as soon as possible so that I would be able to resume printing and publishing my newspaper. Finally, I take advantage of this interview to point out that our country should be firmer with the criminal organisations that try to intimidate journalists. The courts and the political authorities must act with more determination in order to end to the impunity enjoyed by the accomplices of the drug traffickers in Guinea-Bissau.