Detained prominent journalist released after bloody protests

The Guinean government has backed down and released a prominent journalist after trade unions went on nationwide strike and called for public protests amidst fatal clashes with security forces.

Sékou Jamal Pendessa, Secretary General of the press union Syndicat des Professionnels de la Presse de Guinée (SPPG), was released on February 28, 2024 by the Conakry Court of Appeal amidst three days of a paralysing strike and street protests.

The journalist had been arrested on January 19, 2024 for signing a statement calling for protests against prolonged internet disruption and the jamming of some critical radio stations in Guinea. Protests and public processions have been banned in the country since 2022, and so the junta viewed Pendessa’s call as an illegal act of defiance.

On February 23, while still in detention, the journalist was pronounced guilty and sentenced to six months in prison, half of the term suspended. The verdict provoked an outrage and Guinea’s trade union, of which SPPG is a member organisation, declared a nation-wide strike and public protests.

Conakry was brought to a standstill as offices, schools and banks closed while public transport was grounded in Conakry. Besides the demand for Pendessa’s release, the protesters demanded an end to free expression violations and the rising cost of foodstuff and other basic necessities.

The protests turned violent in some areas of Conakry, as clashes erupted on February 26, 2024, the first day of the protest. According to unofficial reports, two young people were shot dead. They were identified as Mamady Keïta, and Ibrahima Touré. Mamady Keita’s parents testified that their son had gone to the side of the road to buy beans when he was shot. He died in hospital.

Amidst the turmoil, an appeal court in Conakry on February 28, 2024, saved the face of the government and appeased the protesters by releasing Pendessa from prison, after maintaining the suspended term and reducing the journalist’s custodial term to the time he had already served in detention.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the release of journalist Sékou Jamal Pendessa after more than 30 days in detention, and urges the Guinean authorities to put an end to the wave of repression against the media. We strongly condemn the violent repression of demonstrations and call on the authorities to investigate the alleged killing of protesters and bring the perpetrators to book.

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