At least nine people were killed and dozens arrested during a week of upheaval
(Nairobi) The Guinean government should stop repressing the exercise of the right to protest by releasing civil society leaders and protesters opposed to the adoption of a new constitution, Human Rights Watch said today . He is also expected to investigate the killings of protesters and a gendarme during three days of protests that began on 14 October in the capital, Conakry, and in towns in the interior.
The government has effectively banned street protests for more than a year, citing threats to public safety. But the restrictions on the right to demonstrate worsened during the week, as security forces arrested activists who had led the opposition in adopting a new constitution and resorted to excessive force to disperse demonstrations throughout the country, the government recognizing the deaths of nine people, including a policeman.
“The Guinean government simply should not deny the public its right to express opposition to a new constitution,” said Corinne Dufka , West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “A total ban on demonstrations, the arbitrary arrest of civil society leaders and the violent dispersal of protesters demonstrate that the government is ready to trample on human rights to crush any challenge. “
Guinea is in a political stalemate in anticipation of an announcement by President Alpha Conde about whether he will try to amend the constitution in order to run for a third term as head of state at the time. presidential election in 2020. He did not indicate his intentions, but on 9 October his government completed consultations on the need for a new constitution .
The National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) a coalition of non governmental organizations and opposition parties that boycotted the consultation process announced October 7 protests across the country from 14 October. General Bourema Conde, Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, said on October 9 that the FNDC declaration was “an open threat to the peace and security of our nation”.
On 12 October, security forces arrested seven members of the FNDC leadership, including its coordinator, Abdourahmane Sanoh, at a meeting at his home. Other FNDC members arrested include Sekou Koundouno, FNDC Chief of Planning; Ibrahima Diallo, Chief of Operations; and Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, director of digital communications. Sanoh’s brother, Mamadou, was also arrested later.
One of the arrested persons’ lawyers told Human Rights Watch that they had been able to see their clients briefly on October 12 at the Judicial Police Directorate, but that they had no access to them after being transferred to a barracks of an elite unit of the security forces, the Mobile Security and Response Company (CMIS), and then in the headquarters of the Guinean intelligence services. The eight men were brought to court on 14 October and detained in Guinea’s central prison. On 16 October, they were brought before a court to be tried for acts likely to undermine public order. The trial was adjourned until 18 October.
Despite the arrest of the FNDC leadership, large scale demonstrations against a new constitution began on October 14 in Conakry and other cities. Journalists and witnesses reported a large deployment of police and gendarmes to disperse demonstrations, including water cannons and tear gas.
There were numerous clashes between protesters and security forces in Conakry and inside Guinea, witnesses claiming that security forces sometimes fired live ammunition. Witnesses said that protesters frequently threw stones and other projectiles at members of the security forces.
Film footage released on October 15 shows police officers using their batons to beat two protesters and, in either case, forcibly stripping the protester completely naked and pretending to slit his throat. Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the use of firearms by police and gendarmes and their excessive use of lethal force when controlling events in the past, as well as beatings of demonstrators, acts of corruption and other forms of crime.
The Guinean government justified the ban on this week’s demonstrations on the grounds that the FNDC leadership did not notify the government in advance of the organization of the demonstrations. President Conde affirmed on October 14 that he was committed to the right to demonstrate but that the organizers had to “inform and involve” the authorities so that “a route is defined and appropriate security measures are taken to ensure safety of the manifestation. “
However, such statements obscure the fact that since July 2018, government officials have systematically banned all demonstrations for which they had been notified in advance. Instead of working with the NDFC and other non governmental or opposition organizations to facilitate the exercise of the right to demonstrate, security forces have arrested, over the past year, individuals who challenged the right to protest. Prohibition to demonstrate and used tear gas to disperse protesters.
The demonstrations continued on October 15 and 16, and the FNDC claimed that 10 people were killed this week and another 70 injured by bullets. In press releases, the government confirmed the deaths of at least nine people but denied that police and gendarmes carried firearms during the demonstrations. The FNDC claimed that security forces arrested and detained more than 200 protesters.
Human Rights Watch recommended in April that the government establish a special judicial unit to investigate deaths at demonstrations . Members of the security forces are virtually never investigated or prosecuted for their alleged role in deaths at demonstrations.
“The brutal suppression of the demonstrations by the Guinean government and the almost total impunity for the abuses committed by the security forces is the recipe for a worrying deterioration of the human rights situation,” said Corinne Dufka. “Instead of arresting civil society leaders, the government should investigate the worrying allegations of violence, including by security forces, and punish the perpetrators. “
Source: Human Rights Watch