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Protests against constitutional changes : at least 9 killed, several activists sentenced to prison

Civic space under threat in Guinea: crackdown on protests and activism against plans to replace the 2010 Constitution

In September 2019, the government organised 'national consultations' aimed at consulting stakeholders from the opposition, civil society and trade unions on two questions, namely a change of the Constitution and the organisation of legislative elections, which were due to take place in September/October 2018 but were postponed several times. The consultations were boycotted by most opposition parties and a large part of civil society, accusing the government of trying to give legitimacy to the perceived ambition of President Condé to stay in power beyond the constitutionally allowed terms, ending in October 2020. 

In response, the Front national de la défense de la Constitution (FNDC; National Front for the Defence of the Constitution), a platform of opposition parties, civil society organisations and trade unions formed in April 2019, vowed to use 'all legal means' to oppose any change of the Constitution, which could see the two-term limit for presidents removed, allowing President Alpha Condé to run for a third term. Nationwide protests, called for by FNDC, were repressed, with at least 9 people killed, while FNDC protest leaders were arrested in the days leading up to the protests. 

On 17th October 2019, Guinea was placed on the Monitor Watchlist for immediate and urgent threats to civic space. 

Peaceful Assembly

At least 9 people were killed during protests on 14th, 15th and 16th October 2019 in Conakry and other cities in Guinea, with security forces using excessive force to disperse protesters. The protests, called by FNDC, were preceded by the arbitrary arrest of several FNDC protest leaders (see under Association). Clashes between protesters and security forces were reported. On social media, videos of police beating and humiliating protesters were shared. According to the FNDC,10 protesters were killed, 70 people injured and about 200 arrested. 

Authorities said the protests were illegal as the organisers did not notify authorities of the protests but in practice authorities have banned protests for over a year on grounds of threats to public security, said Human Rights Watch. According to the human rights organisation, at least 20 protests, political and other, have been banned by local authorities since July 2019. 

François Patuel of Amnesty International commented

"The use of lethal force against protesters and bystanders and the arrest of the protest organisers are a shameful attempt by Guinean authorities to stifle dissent by any means necessary."

Association

At least 14 people were arrested in the days prior to the protest on 14th October, according to Amnesty International. On 12th October 2019, police arrested at least eight people, FNDC members and civil society actors, at a meeting in the residence of FNDC's national coordinator Abdourahamane Sanoh. Among those arrested besides Sanoh were Abdoulaye Oumou Sowh of the Association des blogueurs de Guinée (ABLOGUI, Association of Bloggers of Guinea), Sekou Koundono of Balai Citoyen, Mamadou Baïlo Barry of the CSO Destin en Main and Ibrahima Diallo of Tournons la Page. A day later, on 13th October, seven other people were arrested, including Badara Koné, the Secretary General of Youth of the political opposition party Union des Forces Républicaines (UFR). 

On 16th and 18th October 2019, the FNDC members who were arrested on 12th October appeared in the Court of Dixinn where they faced charges of having made statements 'of a nature to disturb public order', with the public prosecutor requesting a prison sentence of five years and a fine of 2 million Guinean francs (215 USD) for seven of the eight protest leaders. On 22nd October 2019, the Court sentenced Abdourahamane Sanoh to a prison sentence of one year, and four others - Sekou Koundono, Mamadou Baïlo Barry, Ibrahima Diallo and Alpha Soumah, to a prison sentences of 6 months. 

Expression

Judicial harassment of journalists

A radio presenter for the programme Oeil de Lynx, Boubacar Algassimou Diallo, and the owner of radio station Lynx FM, Souleymane Diallo, were placed under judicial control, pending trial, after they were summoned by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police on 19th August 2019. The summons followed the broadcast of the programme Oeil de Lynx on 31st July 2019, which featured an interview with government critic Sanoh Dossou Conde who accused the Guinean Minister of Defence of financial irregularities. The two were accused of 'complicity in defamation, dissemination of information likely to disturb public security or undermine human dignity' under the 2016 Law on Cybersecurity. On 29th August 2019, the judicial control on Souleyemane Diallo was lifted. According to media reports, the Conakry Appeal Court ordered the end of the judicial prosecution of the two journalists on 20th September 2019.

Journalists protest press freedom violations

To denounce press freedom violations in Guinea, private radio stations organised a two-hour long synchronised live protest broadcast, aired on all news sites and private radio stations on 29th August 2019. In particular, they denounced the use of the Cyber Security Law instead of the Law on Press Freedom that decriminalised press offences. Amadou Tam Camara of Association Guinéenne de la Presse En Ligne (AGUIPEL; Guinean Association of the Online Press) said:

“Today the Guinean press is going through very difficult times as journalists are subjected to a lot of harassment and judicial persecution because judges or prosecutors have decided to use the Cyber Security Law 002 instead of the Press Freedom Law 003, any time a press offence is committed.”

The broadcast followed a sit-in by journalists and media organisations in front of the offices of the national media regulator Haute Autorité de la Communication (HAC) a few days earlier on 26th August 2019. The journalists protested the judicial harassment and intimidation of journalists, carrying a banner with the slogan 'Marche de colère des médias, plus de journaliste en prison' (March of anger by the media, no more journalists in prison'). The protest was organised by the Syndicat des professionnels de la presse privée de Guinée (Union of private media professionals in Guinea), in collaboration with other media organisations.