/ 25 October 2019

Guinea opposition leaders jailed

Anger: People in Conakry protest against a possible change to the Constitution that could let the president seek a third term.
Anger: People in Conakry protest against a possible change to the Constitution that could let the president seek a third term.



A Guinean court on Tuesday sentenced the leaders of opposition groups to jail terms of up to one year, following protests this month in which about 10 people were killed.

Abdourahamane Sanoh, the co-ordinator of the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), an alliance of opposition groups, was given a 12-month term, and four other leaders were sentenced to six months in jail. Three other accused were found not guilty.

They were found guilty of initiating a wave of unauthorised protests on October 14 that brought much of the West African state to a standstill.

Cries of “corrupt justice” rang out in the courtroom in Conakry after the ruling was announced. The opposition says 10 protesters were shot dead by police in successive days of clashes. The authorities put the toll at eight, plus a policeman. Dozens of people have been injured.

The FNDC announced on Twitter that “serious actions [would be] announced in the coming days to save democracy”. Lawyers for the defendants said they would file an appeal.

The prosecutors had sought maximum sentences of five years for seven of the accused along with fines of two million Guinean francs ($190).

On Monday, a court in Mamou, 300km from Conakry, gave one-year suspended jail terms to three people and six-month suspended terms to 20 others. Nineteen accused were released.

The FNDC, which comprises opposition parties, trade unions and civil society groups, has called for further demonstrations in the coming days. The protests have been stirred by speculation that President Alpha Conde plans to change the Constitution to overcome a ban on seeking a third term in office. Elections are due in 2020.

“This is a wicked trial, conducted by judges influenced by the government,” said defence attorney Mohamed Traore.

“This is a way for the government to intimidate the population [and say] that whoever tries to oppose the plan for a third term will be tried and sentenced.”

Rights group Amnesty Inter-national criticised the ruling, saying “no one should be detained for having organised or called for a peaceful demonstration”.

“The sentencing of leaders of civil society shows the desire of Guinean authorities to crush all forms of dissent,” said Amnesty researcher François Patuel.

Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010, but critics say his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

About 100 demonstrators have been shot dead by police since he came to power, according to the opposition. Conde has neither confirmed nor denied his intention to seek a third term.

The United Nations, the European Union, the United States, France and the West African bloc Ecowas have pressed Guinean authorities to respect basic freedoms.

Guinea, a former French colony, is rich in minerals but ranks among the poorest countries in the world. In the UN’s 2018 Human Development Index, it was listed 175th out of 189 countries. — AFP