In what human rights advocates describe as a recipe for impunity, Guinea’s Parliament on July 6, 2019, approved a law, which essentially gives gendarmes in the country discretionary power to shoot on sight without fear of prosecution. About 133 Parliamentarians from all sides abstained from approving what has been termed by critics as a “dangerous law.”
“This law is dangerous in the sense that, even before its passage, we have been recording deaths during demonstrations. I think we have spilt enough blood in Guinea,” protested Hamidou Barry, Secretary General of the human rights group, Organisation guineenne des droits de l’homme (OGDH).
Guinea is notorious for violent security crackdowns on demonstrations, with the September 28, 2009 massacre of more than 150 protesters and rape of 100 women by the security forces during a peaceful demonstration being the worst in the country’s history.
For the opposition, the new law is intended to fortify the Gendarmerie to escalate the already bloody response to the ongoing protest campaign against President Alpha Conde’s bid to modify the Guinean Constitution in order to seek a third term in office.
Opponents of this avowed presidential ambition are already paying a heavy price; at least two protesters have been killed and several others have been beaten or arrested and detained in an orgy of violence against dissidents.
After months of speculations, the ruling party at its weekly meeting held on May 11, 2019, officially declared that a proposal to amend the constitution is in the offing. On June 27, the President confirmed his support for the much-feared constitutional review proposal.
But even before the confirmation, tension had been mounting across the country, with occasional escalation into violence. On April 30, 2019, in the town of Kankan, thugs believed to be supporters of Guinea’s ruling coalition assaulted a group protesting against the President’s rumoured third term bid. News reports said gendarmes, who had been deployed to maintain order, looked on, only to intervene after the protesters had been thoroughly beaten. The security forces carried the injured victims to the gendarmerie, and later released them with ‘advice’ to avoid risking their lives.
Two journalists, Malick Diakité from Horizon FM and Alhassane Diallo from Guineealerte.com, who were covering the demonstration, were also beaten. The journalists had their clothes torn and their work equipment including phones confiscated by the thugs.
One of the protesters who were brutalised, Mory Kourouma, succumbed to his injuries on June 19, while receiving treatment at the hospital.
On May 4, 2019, the police arrested seven members of an opposition pressure group for staging a protest against President Alpha Conde. The protesters were accused of heckling the President, who was presiding over a ceremony at the Fodé Fissa stadium in Kindia. They were stripped of their shirts bearing the inscription “Touche pas a Ma Constitution,” (Don’t Touch My Constitution) the catchphrase of the Front National Pour la Defense de la Constitution (FNDC), a group which professes to defend Guinea’s constitution.
Three days after their arrest (May 7), the dissidents were sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of Guinea Francs 500,000 (about US$ 54) each. They were however set free by an appeals court on May 13. The court also ordered that the seized T-shirts of the defendants be returned to them.
Amidst the increasing tension and abuses, the major human rights organisations in the country warned that the proposed constitutional changes could prove disruptive.
The ruling party however responded to the civil society concerns by laying the blame for the rising tension on their opponents. In a strongly-worded statement released on June 1, the ruling RPG Arc-en Ciel coalition described opponents of the proposed constitutional changes as “enemies of the Republic” and warned that “the State will remain robust and unwavering in ensuring the security of persons and property.”
The party in power soon translated their tough-talking into action when, on June 7, 2019, the authorities in the Prefecture of Maferinya violently quelled another protest by a coalition of anti-third term groups, including the FNDC. Alpha Paina Camara, the local coordinator of the FNDC, was among the protest leaders arrested during the swoop. He was however released three days later over health concerns and taken to hospital.
On June 16, 2019, the police stormed la Maison des associations, a facility housing civil society organisations located in Matoto, a suburb of Conakry, and violently dispersed members of a pressure group opposed to President Conde’s third term agenda. Members of the movement, which is defiantly named A’Moulanfé (It will not happen), were arrested and taken away into detention.
Three days before the above incident (June 13, 2019), there was a bloody security crackdown, coupled with attacks from ruling party supporters, which left one person dead and 22 FNDC protesters injured in the southern town of N’Zérékoré. Several protesters were arrested and a night- time curfew was subsequently imposed on the town.
Following the bloody confrontation, the Prefect of N’Zérékoré, Elhadj Sory Sanoh, announced a ban on all the activities of the FNDC throughout the territory. The Prefect also instructed the police to arrest and prosecute anyone who present themselves as members of the movement.
The ban on demonstrations in N’Zérékoré is not an isolated decision. On the contrary, Prime Minister Ibrahima Kassory Fofana, had set the tone in June 2018 when he directed that “No minister, no head of department of the central administration is allowed to sanction any political or social demonstration outside the periods designated for election campaigns.”
Consequently, municipal, district and prefectorial authorities have declined authorisation for protests, while security forces and, sometimes, ruling party vigilantes, have enforced the ban with sheer terror and violence against opposition protesters.
Considering the ongoing brutalities and the county’s history of deadly repression of protests, the MFWA views the new “shoot-on-sight” law as reckless and unnecessary.
The MFWA considers the standing ban on protests and processions in Guinea as a blatant violation of citizens’ right to express dissent through processions, a key democratic value which is recognised and guaranteed under Article 10 of the country’s constitution and regulated by the Public Order Law n°2015/009/AN of June 4, 2015.
We therefore urge the President to condemn the crackdown and call on his party leadership and vigilantes, state officials, the security forces and his supporters to end the siege, as a demonstration of his personal abhorrence of violent bigotry and his respect for divergent opinion.
We call on President Conde to lift the ban on demonstrations and ensure that people expressing disagreement through demonstrations and marches are protected and safe from any violent interference. We also appeal to the President to ensure that the various acts of violence against demonstrators are investigated and the perpetrators punished. The MFWA further appeals to Guinea’s authorities to review the newly-adopted shoot-on-sight law which is a recipe for mayhem and impunity.