A High court judge in Guinea has delivered a controversial judgement in the case of murdered journalist, El Hadj Mohamed Diallo.
Diallo, a reporter for news website Guinee 7, was shot dead on February 5, 2016 while covering clashes by rival factions of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG) party in the capital, Conakry.
Following Diallo’s death, 18 persons were arrested and charged to court. Following investigations, 13 were acquitted leaving five suspects. After almost two years, the court finally delivered its verdict on January 9, 2018. The judge, Mangadouba Sow, sentenced Souleymane Bah, a former Director of Communication of the UFDG, to life imprisonment for murder and ordered that an arrest warrant be issued against him as he is out of the country for medical reasons.
Two other persons, Alphadio and Mamadou Saidou Barry who were also not present at the court were sentenced in absentia to two years in imprisonment and a fined two million Guineans Francs (about 222 US Dollars) each for assault and battery.
Two other accused persons who were present in court, Amadou Sow and Algassimou Keita were acquitted and discharged.
The MFWA’s correspondent in Guinea reports that the judgment has been received with widespread skepticism. The correspondent adds that the sentencing of Souleyman Bah was rather unexpected because he was only charged in the middle of the two-year trial and after he had left the country for ‘medical reasons.’
“Souleyman Bah did not appear in court even once and none of the accused mentioned him at any point during the trial. His conviction, therefore, took everyone by surprise. The impression one gets is that the authorities failed to find the killers and decided to make ‘scapegoats’ of innocent persons,” the correspondent said.
The MFWA welcome the efforts the Guinean authorities have made to prosecute the killers of El Hadj Mohamed Diallo, However, like many journalists and press freedom groups in Guinea, we are concerned about the judgement. It is curious, for instance, that the court waited to deliver judgment before issuing an arrest warrant against Souleyman Bah who did not attend any court proceedings, although it (the court) knew that he was important to the case.
Again, according to the account of the incident, the only form of violence Diallo suffered that day was the gunshot that killed him instantly. There was no report of him being battered or assaulted. Therefore, the soft sentences handed to two suspects for assault and battery rather than for murder raises a lot of concern. We applaud the Guinean authorities for attempting to fight impunity. However, the judgment raises a lot of concerns and we hope that the justice system is sufficiently robust to resolve satisfactorily all the outstanding and emerging questions regarding the trial.