Guinea’s Bloody Crackdown Stains West Africa’s FOE Landscape in October 2019

Guinea dominated the headlines in October 2019 for the wrong reasons as the resumption of protests against President Alpha Conde’s bid to seek a third term in office was met with familiar brutality, leading to at least nine deaths.

On October 14, 2019, at least nine protesters were killed and several others injured following a brutal crackdown by security forces in Guinea on citizens demonstrating against a possible third-term bid by President Alpha Conde.

“In all, some nine deaths, eight of them in our capital, were recorded as well as several injuries,” admitted  Bourema Conde, Minister for Local Government.

The rights organisation, Human Watch, however, counted ten deaths, adding that 70 people sustained gunshot wounds and scores were arrested.

Ahead of the deadly crackdown, the authorities arrested six members of the anti-third term coalition Front National pour la Defence de la Constitution (FNDC) on October 12, 2019, while they were preparing to address a press conference. The arrested leaders included Abdourahamane Sanoh, a former Minister of State and national coordinator of FNDC, Abdoulaye Oumou Sowh, the Secretary-General of the Association of the Bloggers of Guinea (ABLOGUI), Sekou Koundon,  Administrator of Balai Citoyen (Citizen’s Broom) and Ibrahima Diallo, Coordinator of Tournons la Page (Let’s Turn the Page), both pro-democracy civil society movements.

On October 13, seven other people, including Badara Koné, the Secretary-General of the youth of the Union des Forces Republicaines (UFR), which is a member organisation of the FNDC, were also arrested in the Conakry suburb of Matam. They were detained at the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police in Kenien (Conakry).

Meanwhile, a court in Conakry on October 22, sentenced five of the arrested FNDC leaders to between six months and one year in prison on charges of organising banned protests and inciting civil disobedience.  Former Minister of State, Abdourahmane Sanoh, was sentenced to a year in prison with four others convicted to a six-month jail term each.

On October 9, the police in Ghana fired rubber bullets and used water cannons to disrupt a protest march by law students demanding reforms in Ghana’s legal education system. At least nine protesters were arrested. This included three members of the pressure group, Economic Fighters’ League which joined the law students protest in solidarity. The police intervention was condemned nationwide as excessive.

In Liberia, police officers, on October 10, broke through the gates of Roots FM and stormed the premises to disconnect electrical wires to the building, thus shutting down the station. The action disrupted the popular, yet highly critical programme,  “Costa Show” which was then live on air. Video footage of the incident showed the police officers, accompanied by court sheriffs, carting away two television sets, desktop computers and several documents from the radio station.

On October 24, police officers from Kaduna, Kwara State, arrested Adebowale Adekoya, the webmaster of NewsDigest, an Abuja-based online medium.

On October 29, some plain-clothed police officers from Kwara State also stormed the Abuja residence of Gidado Yushau, the Editor of NewsDigest and arrested him. He was sent to the Wuye District Police Station in Abuja, where his colleague, Adekoya had already spent five days. The arrest is believed to be in connection with an investigative story published way back on May 19, 2018, about a factory in Kaduna owned by a former Governor of the Central Bank.

In other developments, the Editor of the Weekly Source newspaper in Nigeria, Abiri Jones, was released on bail on October 25 after he managed to secure the 100 million naira (USD 280,000) surety demanded by the Court. He spent seven months in detention, having been arrested at the offices of his newspaper on March 30.  Abiri had previously suffered a two-year detention without trial on unproven accusations of terrorism, economic sabotage and fraud.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in collaboration with the partner organisation in Guinea, Association Guineenne des Editeurs de la Presse Independante (AGEPI), on October 28, organised a Media-Security Agencies Forum to promote the safety of journalists in Guinea . Held as part of the MFWA’s activities to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists which is observed worldwide on November 2, the Forum ended with the setting up of a National Committee on the Protection of Journalists.

On 16 October, the President of Togo, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, granted presidential pardon to human rights activist, Foly Satchivi. The leader of the pressure group En Aucun Cas (Under No Circumstances) was arrested on August 22, 2018 when he was preparing to hold an announced press conference. He was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison for “acts of rebellion and incitement,” a reference to his militant campaign for political reforms in Togo.

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