The popular opposition leader Alpha Conde was released in late March, after serving three years of a five-year sentence for allegedly endangering national security. Conde’s release raised expectations that political change was coming to Guinea. But President Lassana Conté, who has ruled the country for nearly two decades, saw matters differently, plotting tirelessly to strengthen his grip on power.
In late November, parliamentary elections scheduled for the following month were postponed for “logistical and political reasons.” Two weeks earlier, a national referendum extended the president’s term from five to seven years and scrapped term limits. Only 20 percent of registered voters took part in the referendum. Some opposition activists, impatient with President Conté’s maneuvers, urged citizens to engage in armed struggle.
The Conté government, civilian in appearance but military at its core, arrested and jailed two journalists who had reported on corruption, cowing many others. Police, who frequently rough up reporters, assaulted at least one press photographer at a rally in the capital, Conakry.
Poor working conditions and low salaries continued to take a toll on reporters’ morale. Citing government harassment, three journalists fled Guinea in 2001, including Georges Leonard Sagno of the bi-monthly Le Dauphin.
At year’s end, Guinea remained on a war footing along its border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. Rebels from both countries have reportedly crossed into Guinea only to be bombed into retreat by Guinea’s superior air force, a tactic that caused numerous civilian casualties. In March, Human Rights Watch denounced Guinea’s indiscriminate use of force against civilians after Guinean troops raided Sierra Leonean villages along the border in search of rebels from Sierra Leone’s notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The Liberian government also claimed that Guinea had killed civilians in Liberian villages along the border. The situation remained tense at year’s end, as other West African countries considered sending at least a thousand peacekeeping troops to protect civilian populations.
On September 19, local journalists set up an independent ethics monitoring body, the Media Ethics Observatory, which the government dismissed as insufficient to improve local journalistic practices.
Aboubacar Sakho, Le Nouvel Observateur
Sakho, publisher of the Conakry weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and fined US$7,000 by the Court of First Instance in Conakry after Justice Minister Abou Camara brought criminal defamation charges against him.
The minister’s complaint stemmed from a January 15 article in which Le Nouvel Observateur argued that Camara had exceeded his authority by dismissing several magistrates.
After the court ruling was pronounced, Sakho was handcuffed and driven to the central prison in Conakry, where he was beaten by other inmates, a local source told CPJ.
The journalist was unconditionally released a month later.
Tibou Camara, L’Observateur
Camara, publisher of the private weekly L’Observateur, was picked up by police at his newspaper’s office in Conakry. According to eyewitnesses, the officers beat him brutally and then took him to Conakry’s central prison.
Earlier, Camara had refused to respond to a court decision demanding that he pay a 1 million Guinean francs (US$524) fine or face six months in jail in connection with a defamation charge.
On April 24, the Conakry High Court sentenced Camara and five other journalists from L’Observateur in absentia to prison terms and/or heavy fines after Malick Sankhon, a Ministry of Tourism official, claimed that an article in the weekly had defamed him. The story accused Sankhon of trying to kidnap Camara, whose paper had been very critical of the official.
Most other L’Observateur journalists, whom police sought because the incriminating article was bylined “The Newsroom” and not a single author, went into hiding, causing the paper to stop publishing briefly.
On May 12, President Lassana Conté ordered the release of Camara, the author of what some sources describe as a book of praises about Conté, an army colonel who has ruled Guinea harshly for the past decade while dragging the country into a costly border war with Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Mamadou Cellou Diallo, Le Lynx
Diallo, a photojournalist with the private weekly Le Lynx, was brutally beaten by officers from the Police Special Protection and Intervention Brigade (BSPI) in the capital, Conakry.
Local sources said a BSPI commander known as Lieutenant Camara ordered the officers to assault Diallo after he photographed Camara at a student rally at Conakry University.
On December 11, Diallo’s newspaper filed a complaint against Camara for “blows and injuries.” In his complaint, Diallo claimed that the officers who beat him also stole his wristwatch and about US$55 he was carrying in his wallet. No further developments in the case had been reported at press time.