Attacks on the Press 1999: Guinea

Although the Guinean constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the draconian 1991 press law still allows for the arrest and detention of journalists on charges of seditious libel. The government-owned broadcast media and the country’s one daily newspaper, the state-owned  Horoya, toe the party line accordingly. Reporters for the state press generally practice self-censorship for the sake of their jobs, while staff members of independent weeklies such as L’Indépendant and L’Indépendant Plus risk being harassed or detained if they report critically about the government.

In 1999, the owner of these two newspapers, Aboubacar Sylla, was arrested along with two of his reporters, Jean-Baptiste Kouroma and Saliou Samb. Police padlocked the group’s offices in December, further dramatizing the dangers of independent journalism in Guinea.

Even so, a small, vocal minority of independent papers continue to criticize President Lansana Conté and the government, despite the risks involved. In addition to the Sylla newspapers, the weekly satirical newspaper Le Lynx, for example, publishes front-page cartoons mocking the president and senior government officials.

Political tensions in Guinea increased in September when the trial of jailed opposition leader Alpha Conde was indefinitely postponed. Conde was arrested on the eve of the December 14, 1998, presidential elections and charged with attempting to destabilize the government. Thirteen other politicians were also arrested shortly thereafter for demonstrating against Conde’s detention; they were freed in March after serving three-month jail sentences. Local media generally approached the Conde case with caution. Although some private papers were apparently quite critical of the government, there were no reports of reprisals against journalists in connection with this issue.

January 29
Don de Dieu Agoussou, L’Oeil EXPELLED

Police expelled Agoussou, a Benin citizen reporting for the Guinean weekly newspaper L’Oeil. Having arrived at Conakry’s international airport to report on the arrival of foreign heads of state for the swearing-in ceremony of President Lansana Conté, he was detained and then expelled from Guinea via the next flight to Côte d’Ivoire. Agoussou had previously received police warnings about an article published in July 1998 in which he criticized the lack of press freedom in Guinea.

April 26
Jean-Baptiste Kouroma, L’Indépendant Plus IMPRISONED

Kouroma, associate editor in chief of the independent weekly newspaper L’Indépendant Plus, was arrested by police and imprisoned at a Conakry police station. His arrest came in response to two articles he had published accusing top government officials of taking bribes. Kouroma was released on June 1.

December 4
Aboubacar Sylla, L’Indépendant / L’Indépendant Plus HARASSED
L’Indépendant / L’Indépendant Plus CENSORED

In the early hours of the morning, state security police arrested Sylla, owner of the indepen-dent weeklies L’Indépendant and L’Indépendant Plus, at his home in the capital, Conakry. He was held for 48 hours at a local police station and then released without charge.

Local sources indicated that the two newspapers had been investigating serious allegations of corruption against senior government officials.

After forcing the staff of both newspapers to vacate their state-owned offices, police closed the offices down. At year’s end, neither newspaper had managed to resume publication.

December 15
Saliou Samb, L’Indépendant Plus IMPRISONED, EXPELLED
Aboubacar Sylla, L’Indépendant Press Group HARASSED

Police in Conakry arrested Samb, editor of the private weekly L’Indépendant Plus, held him for 10 days, and then expelled him to Ghana. The authorities gave no explanation for these measures against Samb, who is a Guinean citizen. But sources in Conakry said his detention and expulsion were part of an intimidation campaign against the media company for which he worked.

The Conakry-based L’Indépendant Press Group, which owns L’Indépendant Plus, became the target of official wrath after publishing a December 4 article about government corruption in a sister publication called L’Indépendant.

On December 4, police detained L’Indépendant Press Group owner Sylla. He was released after two days. Three days later, police raided the offices of L’Indépendant and L’Indépendant Plus, forcing staff to vacate the premises. Copies of the two publications were seized at newsstands.