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Guinea placed on human rights watchlist ahead of referendum

Guinea has been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor human rights watchlist ahead of the proposed referendum on 22nd March. This list draws attention to countries where there has been a rapid decline in civic and democratic freedoms in recent months.

Guinea was placed on the Monitor’s watchlist in October after deadly crackdowns and arbitrary arrests of protesters. It remains on the watchlist because the CIVICUS Monitor is concerned that if the government pushes ahead with the controversial referendum later this week, then further violence and unrest will follow.

Guinea is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, which is the third worst rating a country can receive by the global index, in the same category as Mali, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In obstructed countries, civic space is often monopolised by those in power and excessive force is commonly used by law enforcement agencies.

Since October 2019, more than 30 people have been killed and dozens injured in widespread protests that have engulfed Guinea, as protesters call on the government to respect the provisions of the current constitution.

The current constitution limits presidential tenures to two five-year terms and can only be changed via a referendum. If changed, it could pave the way for President Alpha Condé to remain in power.

Le Front national de la défense de la Constitution, or the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), a movement composed of civil society and the political opposition, have been leading calls against a potential third term bid for President Condé.

The leaders of the FNDC, human rights defenders Ibrahima Diallo and Sekou Koundouno, were arrested by masked men from the BRI (Investigation and Intervention Brigade) on 6 March and taken to an unknown destination.

They were arrested immediately after expressing concerns over the ongoing arbitrary arrests of activists during a press conference. On 12th March they were released on bail and placed under judicial control.

In October 2019 thirteen FNDC leaders were arrested ahead of planned protests in Conakry and accused of organizing banned protests and inciting civil disobedience. Five of them were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six months to one year.

Journalists have also been physically assaulted for covering the protests and their equipment seized to prevent them from broadcasting images of the protests.

The arrest and detention of human rights defenders highlights how the Guinean authorities are trying to silence pro-democracy voices and pave the way for President Condé to extend his term in office:

“By arresting human rights defenders, the Guinean authorities aim to silence the voices of those who are against a new constitution.

It is time for President Condé and his administration to respect the wishes of Guinean people and allow a political transition which will usher in a new era in Guinea’s nascent democracy,” said David Kode, head of advocacy and campaigns at CIVICUS.

CIVICUS calls on the government of Guinea to immediately release all human rights defenders in detention.

CIVICUS also calls on the African Union to ensure that the government of Guinea respects provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance: it urges President Condé to respect the current constitution and step aside when his mandate ends to allow for a peaceful political transition.

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