Conakry paralysed by a general strike after conviction of prominent journalist

A court in Conakry has sentenced to six months in prison (half of the term suspended) the prominent Guinean journalist, Sékou Jamal Pendessa, touching off a general strike.

The February 23, 2024 decision prolongs the detention of Pendessa, the Secretary General of the Guinean Union of Press Professionals (SPPG), who has been in prison since January 19.

The verdict has been greeted with popular discontent expressed through a general strike that has paralysed Conakry, the national capital. In response to a call by several trade union groups, most of the banks, shops, schools and offices did not open for business, while public transport was grounded on February 26, 2024, three days after the court ruling.

Earlier this month, the Guinean trade union movement warned it would bring the country to industrial standstill with a nationwide strike, if Pendessa was not granted freedom.

Pendessa was arrested by police officers and gendarmes on January 19, 2024 and taken by force to Conakry Central Prison. He served 1 month in prison, and with this conviction, will serve a further 2 months.

Sekou Jamal Pendessa’s offence is his call, in December 2023, for all Guineans to take to the streets to demand the restoration of internet access, an end to the jamming of radio stations and accountability from the military regime. It should be noted that public processions and protests have been under ban in Guinea since 2022.

In a statement responding to the conviction of its secretary-general, the SPPG condemned what it described as a liberticidal decision by the Guinean judiciary that reverses all the gains made as far as free and independent media in Guinea are concerned.

“We are not at all surprised by this conviction, as it confirms what we have believed from the outset: the clearly stated desire of the country’s current authorities to confiscate freedom of expression and citizens’ right to information at all costs,” added the SPPG in its statement.

Salifou Beavogui, one of Pendessa’s lawyers, criticised the judge’s decision, saying that “the judge was obliged to reclassify the charges simply to convict the journalist. It’s an empty case and we’re going to appeal”.

The MFWA joins the media in Guinea to call for the unconditional release of journalist Sékou Jamal Pendessa. The right to freedom of assembly is inalienable and so its prohibition by the Guinean authorities is what constitutes the real violation, and not Pendessa’s call on the public to exercise this right. We are dismayed that the court saw the issue in a different light and decided to rule in favour of penalising the journalist who only exercised his right to free expression, by calling on Guineans to exercise their right to free assembly. We call for all charges against the journalist to be dropped. The recent attacks on the media are in total contradiction with the commitments made by the junta after the 2021 coup, to uphold press freedom.

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