Guinea: Journalists arrested in protest against media outlet closure

Guinea’s authorities must drop all charges against the thirteen journalist who were rounded up for protesting against attack on press freedom and ensure accountability for the brutalities meted out to them by security agents.

In a blatant violation of the right to protest on October 16, 2023, the authorities in Guinea attacked and arrested thirteen journalists who were demonstrating in solidarity with a news website which is facing restriction of access. Videos of the incident reviewed by the MFWA capture the use of violence by law enforcement agents.

The press union, Syndicat des professionnels de la presse de Guinée (SPPG), organised the peaceful protest against restrictions of direct access to Since mid-August, this popular website has become inaccessible in the country except via VPN (virtual private network).

However, the peaceful protest in Kaloum, one of Conakry’s six communes, soon took a tragic turn when security forces violently attacked the demonstrators with tear gas.

“A stampede began.  The security officers started firing tear gas at close range at us. Everyone panicked. We were all confused because of the tear gas,” recounted journalist Foulamory Bah of the website in a conversation with the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).

Secretary General of the SPPG, Sekou Jamal Pendessa, reported that at least 13 journalists were arrested during the crackdown. Additionally, three (3) journalists sustained severe injuries, and several pieces of equipment were destroyed.

Journalist Mariama Bhoye Barry of Cavi Médias was seriously injured when a tear gas projectile struck her elbow. She fell with her camera in her hand, with police officers manhandling her before detaining her. Mariam Sall of the Hadafo media group was also assaulted before being arrested.

Another victim, Foulamory Bah sustained a broken neck, as revealed by medical examinations.

“When I was being arrested, a policeman struck me on the back of the neck; I fainted on the spot,” he told the MFWA.

The journalists were forcibly taken to the Kaloum police station, where they were subjected to lengthy interrogations. Sadly, the injured received no medical attention. Subsequently, they were all transported to the Kaloum High Court with the authorities announcing that they were being prosecuted for “participating in an illegal gathering on the street,” a charge they all denied.

According to their lawyer, Salifou Béavogui, they were released later in the evening and placed under judicial supervision until their next summon, which was scheduled for an unspecified date.

Days after the incident, the injured journalists continue to suffer while those responsible for the abuses remain unaccountable.

“I’m suffering a lot today, despite having taken the drugs. The cervical collar I wear has helped me a lot. I don’t dare turn my head. As soon as I try to turn it, it’s as if someone is tearing at my neck with a blade. I want justice. I demand that a serious investigation be launched to identify the officers who committed this horrible act, and that they be brought before the courts and punished for their crimes,” Foulamory told MFWA.

The SPPG, the Confédération nationale des travailleurs de Guinée (National Confederation of Guinean Workers – CNTG) and the Alliance des médias pour les droits humains (Media Alliance for Human Rights – AMDH) have condemned “this gratuitous violence against journalists”.  These organizations also demand the lifting of restrictions on access to the website.

The website, known for its critical analysis and coverage of current events in Guinea, has been inaccessible inside the country since August 15, 2023, depriving many citizens of their fundamental right to information. Nouhou Baldé, the site’s founder, believes that the restriction of his media outlet is an act of intimidation and an attempt to silence his media.

“We thought the problem was technical. But after talking to the webmaster and the host, they told me that there was no technical issue and that I should check with the Internet service providers,” Mr Baldé told MFWA in an interview.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) joins the Guinean press in condemning this severe attack on freedom of assembly, in addition to the violation of the right of Guinean citizens to access to information from the beleaguered news website. We urge the Guinean authorities to conduct impartial investigations into the attack and arrests of peaceful journalist protesters and ensure the perpetrators are punished.

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