Guinea: deaths in detention and prison sentence for opposition members

Authorities in Guinea must investigate the deaths of at least four people in detention and end a wave of arrests targeting at least 400 opposition and civil society members.

In the past two months, four people, including three supporters of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) have died in pre-trial detention in Conakry’s main prison. They were arrested in connection with protests in March 2020 against a referendum to change the constitution, and in October 2020 against the results of the presidential election which gave Alpha Condé a third term in office.

“These people died while being held in prisons that are notorious for squalid, abusive conditions that often result in death, where the international rules of law on the treatment of detainees are ignored,” said Fabien Offner, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.

“By refusing to thoroughly investigate these deaths and authorizing the release or hospitalization of sick detainees only when their cases are desperate, the authorities show a deep contempt for human life. The Guinean authorities must shed light on the circumstances of these deaths in detention and urgently improve conditions of detention.”

Mamadou Oury Barry, who had been in custody since 5 August for “assault and battery”, died in prison on 16 January 2021. According to the Ministry of Justice, “he died a natural death linked to a bowel obstruction and anaemia in the emergency department of Ignace Deen Hospital”. Barry told one of his relatives on 14 January that he had stomachache. Despite arriving at the prison with food and medicine, the relative was turned away. “When I arrived at the prison, I was told that I could not enter with the medicine. In the early afternoon of 21 January, I was told he was seriously ill. When I went again to the prison, I was informed of his death,” the relative told Amnesty International.

As of 29 January 2021, Barry’s family had still been unable to recover the body, despite lodging a request for it 10 days earlier with the prosecutor at Dixinn Court.

Roger Bamba, a member of the UFDG’s national youth council, died in detention on 16 December 2020 “from illness”, according to the Justice ministry. He was arrested on 6 September 2020 at the National Assembly where he was working as parliamentary assistant, and was sent to prison four days later, charged with “producing, disseminating statements likely to disturb public security”.

“I was never told that he was sick… Every time I went to the prison to visit him, I showed my authorization document, but I was always banned from meeting him. They said political prisoners cannot be visited. I only got to see him once, on 23 November, and he was fine that day. I was never able to see him before 16 December. When I got there it was too late,” Roger Bamba’s wife told Amnesty International.

Another detainee, 25-year-old Mamadou Lamarana Diallo, died on 5 December 2020 after being arrested on 2 April 2020 in Conakry, during the unrest following the disputed 22 March referendum.

“After his arrest we did not see Mamadou Lamarana Diallo until 4 December,” said one of his relatives. Diallo died a few hours after being brought almost dying to his relatives by members of the defense and security forces.

Another detainee at Conakry central prison, Thierno Ibrahima Sow, died on the night of 17 November 2020.

Prison conditions fall short of minimum standards required by international law, particularly those enacted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in the Robben Island guidelines. Witness testimonies received by Amnesty International from relatives of detainees who died in prison or from former detainees indicate that authorities in Guinea failed to respect international standards regarding the rights of detainees.

For example, at Conakry’s central prison, built for around 300 people, a single doctor on site is supposed to care for nearly 2,000 inmates.

Amnesty International delegates visited Conakry prison four times between 2015 and 2019. A detained UFDG member described conditions in the prison at the end of 2020:

“We lie one on top of another. The food is rotten. The prisoners relieve themselves side by side … A young man has been here for six months, arrested only because he was dancing in the street to music praising [opposition leader] Cellou Dalein Diallo… There is no infirmary in the prison… There is only one doctor for all these detainees. When people revolt, they are sent to Ignace Deen Hospital,” the detainee told Amnesty International.

“The detention conditions in the Conakry prison are inhuman. Every detainee has the right to be treated with dignity, to receive adequate and appropriate food, hygiene conditions and care. When a detainee is ill, he must be able to see a doctor as soon as possible and have access to the necessary treatment,” said Fabien Offner.

Oumar Sylla, also known as Foniké Mengué, who is one of the executives of the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC in French) was arrested in Conakry on 29 September 2020, while mobilizing against President Alpha Condé’s candidacy for the presidential election. After four months of arbitrary detention, he was sentenced on 28 January 2021 to 11 months in prison for “participating in a prohibited assembly likely to disturb public order”. He was initially prosecuted for “illegal assembly, disturbing public order, destruction of public properties and endangering state security”. Amnesty International considers Oumar Sylla’s detention as arbitrary and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

According to a list drawn up by lawyers representing detained opposition supporters, 167 activists or opposition supporters are currently detained at the central prison in Conakry – and between 350 and 400 others are detained elsewhere in the country.

They include Souleymane Condé, coordinator of the FNDC in the US, and Youssouf Dioubaté, member of the FNDC, who were both sentenced on 13 January 2021 to one year in prison and a fine of 20 million Guinean francs (1,500 euros). They were arrested on 12 September 2020 and charged with “producing, disseminating, and making available to others, data likely to disturb order and public security”. Youssouf Diabaté was just with Souleymane Condé during his arrest.

UFDG executives including Ibrahima Chérif Bah, Ousmane “Gaoual” Diallo and Abdoulaye Bah, who were put in custody between 11 and 13 November 2020 are still awaiting trial. They face 11 charges including “possession and manufacture of small arms, criminal conspiracy, disturbing public order, looting and destruction, participation in a gathering, statements inciting violence”.

On 25 January 2021, the prosecutor of the Dixinn Court of First Instance requested a sentence of 10 years in prison against Mamadi Condé, a UFDG supporter prosecuted for “threats, insults, attack on the fundamental interests of the nation, xenophobia, incitement to revolt “. Several of these detainees have experienced health problems in recent weeks, according to their lawyers.

“These opposition figures are the tree that hides the forest of the anonymous, often detained for months in prisons on the fringes of the rule of law without being brought before a judge,” said Fabien Offner.

“The Guinean authorities must ensure that all people in pre-trial detention must have access to a lawyer and be tried within a reasonable time or released pending trial, as stated by international law. The Guinean authorities must also immediately and unconditionally release all those arrested and detained for simply exercising their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”