A member of the main opposition party to President Alpha Condé, Barry was arrested in 2011 for violating state security and he was incarcerated for over four years at the Conakry prison. This is his story.
I was transferred to the Conakry central house prison. That was when my family found out I was still alive.
I BECAME a civil society activist in my country in early 2000 before joining the UFDG, the main opposition party. I was an executive member in charge of youth. I am committed to making democracy a reality in my country. Before my imprisonment, I was an accountant for a private company with a master’s degree in accounting from the Lansana Conté University in Conakry.
I was accused of the so-called “attack on President Alpha Condé’s home” and charged with violating state security, the illegal possession of arms, assault and murder. I was tried and sentenced to five years in prison with seizure of property. I appealed the judgement but it was denied. I served four and a half years in prison, and was granted a presidential pardon and released in 2015.
It all began the night of 17 and 18 July 2011, around 3 a.m. I was taken away by the police from my family home; they climbed over the fence and threatened to beat me up if I failed to cooperate. I was brought to their headquarters and handed over to the Judicial Intervention Brigade, who were instructed to torture me into confessing.
I was hung from a pole, beaten and tortured. My face was swollen, and handcuffs pressed into my flesh.
I was starved for two days. On the third day, the attack on the president’s residence took place. After two weeks of being detained illegally, I was transferred to the Conakry central house prison. That was when my family found out I was still alive. It was my very first time in prison.
To use the toilet, I had to negotiate the whole day.
Arrival in prison
The prison is in the centre of Conakry and dates to the colonial era. It is shaped like a T, with three corridors: the central corridor, the corridor for the accused and the corridor for the convicted.
The central corridor has some narrow isolation cells called “black cells” or “casket cells”.
The military officers involved in the case were kept in the prison’s second canteen called ‘‘Alpha Condéya’’, named after the current president who was imprisoned there as the opposition. I was isolated like most of the accused young professionals, senior officers, soldiers and intelligence officers. Police officers and red beret soldiers 1 were stationed inside the prison. The prison guards were under their command.
Escorted by police, I had to visit the infirmary every two days due to a hand injury. To use the toilet, I had to negotiate the whole day. We ate from the same pot that we did our business in for months. After eight months of investigation, a small group of detainees were released. The trial was widely covered by the media. In statements, it was written that I took part in the attack whereas I was arrested several days earlier. Thanks to the efforts of our lawyers, international humanitarian organizations and some diplomatic intervention, our conditions improved six months after confinement. The prison guards then took over.
Many died, and others left the prison ill or disabled for life.
300 spots for 6,000 prisoners
You could bribe them and negotiate with them in exchange for certain benefits. We could read and do sports. We were granted a five-minute visit once a week. Later, two and then three visits a week. If you paid them, you could spend more than five minutes with a family member. We could even send the guards shopping for us.
With money, you could become a real boss in the prison. For instance, phone calls were forbidden. But with money, prisoners could buy mobile phones.
We were poorly fed; our diet consisted of very low-quality rice. When a prisoner got a piece of bread, it was like gold. Many prisoners would reheat their food over fire, charcoal or on their stoves to make it better. An international humanitarian organization obtained a more balanced diet through the authorities for political prisoners. For example, our meals then comprised of rice porridge early in the morning with bread. We chose to redistribute the food to the other prisoners since we could receive food from our families after being released from isolation.
At the time of my release, the prison had a population of 6,000 but spots meant for 300. Many died, and others left the prison ill or disabled for life. Prison is like school. You meet all sorts of people there. I met people with whom I developed a good relationship and others I would rather stay away from. Prison can happen to anyone. I saw people come and go several times, only to be jailed again three months later for the same offences. You can learn a lot and build a personality, good or bad. I cannot say that it was a waste of my time. I learned a lot from my experience. I have grown. Prison was supposed to intimidate me, dissuade me from my political commitment, but I fight for convictions, values. I will continue to fight for a stronger democracy.