Guinea: Journalists’ union leader arrested for calling for anti-government protest

The military authorities in Guinea must release Sekou Jamal Pendessa, Secretary General of the Syndicat des Professionnels de la Presse de Guinée (SPPG), and take steps to end the wave of repression against the media in the country.

Pendessa was arrested in town on January 19, 2024 and driven to the gendarmerie investigation brigade in Kipé, where he spent his first night in detention. After a lengthy preliminary examination, the High Court in Dixin charged him with unauthorised demonstration and publication of data likely to undermine public order and security. He has since been in Conakry’s central prison.

The charges against Pendessa stem from his call to demonstrate against the government for serial violation of public and individual freedoms, including press freedom and access to information. On January 18, 2024, the journalist and union leader launched a call to take to the streets to demand the lifting of restrictions on Internet access and the restoration of the country’s suspended private radio and television stations. Nine journalists were arrested by security forces who also laid siege on the Maison de la Presse (the social and office complex of media organisations) to scuttle the coordination of the planned protest.

Salifou Béavogui, the lawyer defending the trade unionist journalist, said: “These are offences that have been brought against him and that he has not admitted. This is a freedom that has just been confiscated because he should not have been taken to prison.”

The Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Charles Alphonses Wright, however insists that Pendessa has a case to answer for promoting lawlessness.

“Respect for justice is non-negotiable. But for those who don’t know, no one has a monopoly on disorder in a state, whatever profession they practice. No one can claim to exert pressure on the justice system to do what you think should be done. So it will be the magistrates who decide what they consider to be in accordance with the law”, the Minister told journalists at the Dixin courthouse.

The battle that Pendessa and his colleagues are waging for the full enjoyment of freedom of expression and press freedom is not an easy one, given the difficult context in which the media operate in Guinea.

Internet access has been severely restricted in the country for several weeks. The authorities have also imposed restrictions on social networks, while private radio and television stations have been cut off. News websites have also been targeted and have become inaccessible, except via virtual private networks. The authorities also banned all demonstrations in 2022 and warned against any repeat attempts.

These are the repressive measures against which the SPPG had called on its members and the public to protest on January 18, leading to the arrest of nine journalists, followed by the Secretary General of the journalists’ union.

Meanwhile, Guinea’s national trade union congress (CNTG) has called an emergency general meeting for January 24, to decide on the appropriate response, according to Abdoulaye Cisse, Director of Communication of SPPG who spoke on a messaging App with the MFWA.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the detention of Sekou Jamal Pendessa and urges that he be released. We further urge the junta in Guinea to end the recent blitz of repression against the media. Peaceful demonstrations, even if unauthorized, should not be criminalised in any country which claims to uphold fundamental human rights.

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