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Guinea-Bissau priest threatened after criticizing president

A priest in Guinea-Bissau has received death threats after he posted critical comments about President Umaro Sissoco Embaló on social media on January 2.

Father Augusto Tamba of Empada, a region in the southern part of the country, had spoken about a recent attack made by Embaló against Bishop José Lampra Cá of Bissau.

On December 29, Lampra Cá and other spiritual leaders had a meeting with Prime Minister Nuno Nabiam. Afterwards the bishop told journalists that the country “could not be happy if its children and its citizens do not collaborate in the sense of having an impeccable moral behavior and also in the sense of taking responsibility and scrupulously respect the country’s laws.”

Embaló, who has been at loggerheads with Nabiam, accused Lampra Cá of meddling in politics, according to a Deutsche Welle report.

“I do not know if the bishop is doing politics. What I do know is that the bishop belongs to the church, the imam belongs to the mosque and the pastor belongs to his place of service. But if he wants to do politics, he has to tell us. There are several parties that want him to join them and if he wants to, he should do so,” he said.

Embaló has been president since Feb. 27, 2020, but previously served as prime minister between Nov. 18, 2016, and Jan 16, 2018.

Tamba published a long post about the president’s remarks, demanding respect for the bishop and reaffirming his right to comment on the West African nation’s social and political issues.

“Due to the nature of his function, the bishop does not do active politics and never will. Fortunately, due to his mission he is and will continue to be a moral authority. He can intervene at any time in whatever seems to him to be fair and give a word of guiding about the res publica – the public things,” he said.

The priest also criticized the president’s claim that each religious leader belongs to his temple, where God is present.

“His conception about God’s presence should be redefined, because God is everywhere and we insistently pray that the God of Goodness also makes Himself present in the political palaces and State buildings,” Tamba said.

“But, as we could see, the Presidential Palace chief has already assumed God’s absence from his workplace. Maybe that is why he wants the bishop to remain distant from him, like the Devil when escaping from the Cross,” the priest added.

The next day, the priest began to receive threats.

“Somebody called me at dawn and asked me if I were Father Tamba. The person then said: ‘You know that we can smash you to pieces in a few minutes, don’t you?’” Tamba told Crux.

Since then, he has been taking a few security measures, but he keeps doing his daily activities.

“I took a young man to celebrate the Holy Mass in two villages today,” he said.

“But I’m not hiding at home. I will keep working and keep reflecting about the situation in my country on my social media,” the priest added.

The Bissau-Guinean League of Human Rights issued a statement Jan. 6 condemning those making threats against the priest and urging the authorities to investigate the case.

“That is an unacceptable attempt of intimidating and silencing people with a critical view of the government. They [Embaló and his supporters] want to implant an authoritarian and absolutist regime, so they have difficulties to deal with discordant opinions,” Bubacar Turé, the League’s Vice President, told Crux.

Turé accused Embaló of human rights violations against journalists, members of civic organizations, and religious leaders.

“He is waging war against everybody. He is totally isolated now, that is why he attempts to manipulate people from his ethnicity, the Fulani, and from his religion, Islam. But only small segments support him,” he said.

About 45 percent of the 2 million Bissau-Guineans are Muslim and 22 percent are Christian. Turé said that the country has a religious atmosphere of tolerance and that Embaló will not succeed in his effort to create inter-faith conflicts.

“He tried to manipulate Islamic organizations after the bishop’s comments, with the intention of making them publish a statement against the Church. But they refused to do so. Only a small group did it,” Turé said.

Tamba said that the Catholic Church has a great moral authority in the country, something that displeases the President.

“By attacking a bishop or threatening a priest, he thought he would be able to silence us. But that is not true,” the priest said.

The priest added that Embaló, who once compared himself to the Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte – notorious for his zero tolerance on crime policies and the object of several accusations of human rights violation – will not be able to consolidate a dictatorial regime in Guinea-Bissau.

“But he will keep trying to do so. His tactics is dividing to conquer,” Tamba said.