As Guinea’s President Alpha Condé prepares to be sworn in for a controversial third term on December 15, scores of opposition leaders, supporters, and others perceived to be close to the opposition are locked up, facing what appear to be politically motivated charges.
The days after the October 18 presidential election were marred by intercommunal violence and security forces using excessive force to disperse opposition-led protests, leaving at least 12 people dead. On October 31, the prosecutor of the appeals court in Conakry, the capital, announced that 325 people had been arrested in connection with the post-election violence.
Yet it appears the vast majority arrested were targeted merely because of known or suspected political affiliation, or because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Human Rights Watch spoke to five lawyers, representing those detained, who said the arrests were often arbitrary, conducted during abusive house-to-house searches at night in areas considered to be opposition strongholds. “Security forces broke into scores of homes, used excessive force to arrest people, looted items, and beat people up,” Thierno Souleymane Balde, one of the lawyers, said.
Those arrested, including 11 children, have been held at Conakry’s central prison and charged with various crimes including insurrection, destruction of property, and illegal possession and manufacturing of firearms. Among those arrested are four leaders of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, the main opposition party, and the leader of the “Mouvement nos valeurs communes,” another opposition party. Their trial was adjourned on November 30 and reassigned to another court with jurisdiction over minors.
“Authorities want to keep them away from the political scene in order to prevent them from mobilizing their supporters and demonstrating against Alpha Condé’s third term,” said Pepe Antoine, a human rights lawyer.
Despite serious human rights abuses committed by the Guinean security forces after the presidential elections, Human Rights Watch is not aware of any security force members facing any disciplinary or other consequences.
The National Front for the Defense of the Constitution, a coalition of nongovernmental groups and opposition parties, announced new demonstrations for December 15, when Alpha Conde will be sworn in. Instead of arbitrarily rounding people up for arrest, Guinean authorities should ensure security forces protect people while respecting their right to demonstrate peacefully, release those unjustly imprisoned, and investigate law enforcement’s conduct.