Security forces arrest prominent editor

New York, February 17, 2005—Guinean security forces arrested the editor of one of the nation’s leading private weeklies at his home in the capital, Conakry, on Wednesday night. Authorities did not disclose charges against Mohamed Lamine Diallo, known by his pen name Benn Pépito, but local journalists believe the arrest could be linked to his journalism.

Security forces also searched Pépito’s home, but nothing was confiscated, local sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The journalist was being held at the headquarters of Conakry’s security services, local media groups said in a joint statement today.

“We call on Guinean authorities to explain why they are holding Benn Pépito and to make public any charges against him,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today.

The February 16 edition of Pépito’s newspaper, the private weekly La Lance, carried an editorial titled, “The situation in Lomé seen from Conakry,” which compared the political situation in Guinea, where President Lansana Conté has ruled since 1984, to that of Togo, where the army moved to install long-time ruler Gnassingbé Eyadema’s son as president following Eyadema’s death on February 5.

Both Eyadema and Conté “modified the law to prolong their grip on power,” the editorial said, referring to steps by Conté’s government to extend presidential term limits. “Is there a risk that the scenario in Lomé could be replicated in Conakry?” The article also called for “a greater opening of the political system toward the true exercise of democracy” as the best guarantee of peaceful political transition in “our young states.”

Guinean security forces have arrested and questioned dozens of people following an alleged January 19 assassination attempt on Conté, raising fears of a crackdown on the opposition.

Authorities frequently censor and harass critical publications. Most recently, the government’s National Communications Council (CNC) suspended the private newspaper Le Quotidien in November 2004 and accused it of undermining “peace, tranquility, and democracy.” According to local sources, the suspension stemmed from an article in Le Quotidien criticizing the political and economic situation in Guinea.