Guinea: Strengthen freedom of assembly and expression to prevent election violence
Four months before national elections in Guinea, President Alpha Condé should act to strengthen a proposed new law that could help put an end to the country's history of violent demonstrations and reject another that could criminalise dissent, Amnesty International said today.
On Tuesday a bill on maintaining public order was passed by the National Assembly, defining how and when force can and cannot be used to police protests. According to information collected by Amnesty International, at least 357 people have died and thousands have been wounded during demonstrations over the last decade.
“Guinea’s recent past has been marred by the violent repression of demonstrations in which hundreds of people have died. New legislation to ensure force is only ever used as a measure of last resort, and under strict conditions, is welcome but needs to be strengthened and enforced if Guinea’s history of violence is not to repeat itself in the coming elections”, said Francois Patuel, Amnesty International Researcher for francophone West Africa, who is on mission in the country.
While welcoming measures to define the roles and responsibilities of Guinea’s security forces, Amnesty International warned that the new law – still to be approved by the President - contains significant gaps that could provide flashpoints for future protests and result in the right to peaceful assembly not being fully respected, protected and fulfilled.
Crucially, the law would not allow for spontaneous assemblies, while security forces also retain powers to disperse groups of otherwise peaceful protestors if just one person is believed to be carrying or concealing a weapon. Amnesty International fears that such clauses could still be used as grounds for banning or repressing peaceful protest.
“Guinea’s authorities should be doing everything possible to facilitate peaceful protest, both to respect freedom of assembly and to ensure stability and safety ahead of key elections. Continuing to restrict spontaneous assemblies or disperse peaceful protests without proper justification means the risk of election violence could remain high. The President should act to amend the Bill before it is passed into law,” said Francois Patuel.
The bill was passed in the absence of the opposition, which continues to boycott the National Assembly; it must now be approved by the President – or be sent for further amendments - before passing into law.
Since the announcement of the electoral calendar in March 2015, at least six people have died and 57 wounded, including members of the police force and the gendarmerie, during clashes between protestors and security forces linked to upcoming elections. Presidential elections are due to be held in October 2015, and local elections in 2016.
In September 2009 over 150 people were killed and at least 1,500 were wounded when security forces opened fire on an opposition rally at a stadium in the capital Conakry. Despite the fact that a judicial enquiry was opened, the main perpetrators of the massacre have never been brought to justice.
The National Assembly also passed a separate bill in the same session on Tuesday, approving measures that would introduce penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and hefty fines for insulting, slandering, offending or publishing ‘false news’ about the President and other public officials. Amnesty International considers these measures a wholly unjustified restriction of freedom of expression that could be used to criminalise dissent and urges the President to refuse to assent to this law.
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