The fragile state of Guinea-Bissau’s democracy

Tranlation by Matilde São José

The country has faced setbacks and adversities in maintaining the stability of the foundations built in favor of the Guinean rule of law, that questions the citizens’ security and the defense of the human person’s dignity.

February was a particularly suffocating month for the democratic process that happens in Guinea-Bissau, a West African country bathed by the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the effort, the country regresses as regards the protection of freedoms, rights and obligations that are essential to the human condition – observed events since the post-election political crisis of 2020, that spread chaos among Guinean state institutions.

Some civil entities, for humanitarian purposes, addressed the sovereign organs of Guinea-Bissau in an Open Letter, in Jully 2020, which sought to preserve the constitutional construction of pluralist democracy, based on respect for the rule of law and its institutions and on the maintenance of civil and political rights.  The content of the press release points to beatings, waves of kidnappings and arbitrary arrests, illegal monitoring of citizens, the weakness of the system of interdependence of powers (specially the judiciary), constant constitutional violations and persecutions and attacks towards political activists and journalists, consented by the hand of the government.

Forced silence

At least partial derogation from freedom of expression and of the press, for what Augusto Mário Silva, president of the Guinean League of Human Rights, calls a “oppression squad”, with the arrests without warrants, out of flagrante delicto, came to accentuate with the attacks on the facilities of Rádio Capital FM, known for criticizing the governmental conduct. The first attack took place the 26th Jully 2020 and the most recent the last February 7, which resulted in the destruction of most of the radio equipment and 5 wounded.

Lassana Cassamá, head of the radio (which is currently in Portugal), recalled the attacks on the residencies of the former GLHR president – Luís Vaz Marques -, of the current one and, even more recently, of the political commentator Rui Landim, on February 9. The attack with bullets and tear gas grenades was halted by the intervention of neighbors and ended up without victims, and, as well as the radio attacks, no investigations that identified the involved – leaving a precedent of impunity for those who threaten fundamental freedoms and rights.

On the first day of February 2022, the Government Palace, which at the time hosted a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which was attended by the President of the Republic, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, was the target of an uprising. The attempted coup d’état made about 11 deaths, one of them being an alleged attacker, already under the investigation of the Public Ministry, having already occurred arrests, however, without identifying the individuals. The 18 detainees are still deprived of meeting their lawyer, Marcelino Intupe.

The Guinean Head of State made clear the connection between the attack and the rebels in Casamance and with people related to drug trafficking – a weakly reasoned argument, although Guinea-Bissau is an important entry point for the drug trade from South America, towards the European continent, despite the fact that drug trafficking is a real thorn in the side of political power.

Some individuals are questioning the truthfulness of the attempted coup d’état, considering if it was staged, since some eyewitnesses revealed that the uprising carried out by armed individuals in civilian clothes. The investigation that is being carried out may accuse the weak functioning of the Guinean judiciary, since the history of arbitrary arrests and the dysfunction of the system of separation of powers is a reality, while the identification of detainees is concealed.

The siege tightens

Sissoco Embaló has already started a  reform of the Armed Forces, exonerating some members of the General Staff of the Navy and appointed Colonel Baute Yamta Na Mam as deputy chief of the Army General Staff – Baute Yamta Na Mam rescued the president during an attempted coup d’état. Having also regard to the attack on Rui Landim, the Police Commissioner issued a statement which perpetuates the establishment of a zero tolerance policy for assaults and violent incidents, which after the raids without mandate and arbitrary arrests, have converged in the propagation of fear among the population.

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