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Guinea: Journalist Assaulted by Police Officers

An assault on a journalist by Guinean police officers has shocked many people in the country, especially among media professionals. Kounkou Mara was assaulted by police officers on security detail for the Central Bank of Guinea in Conakry on February 27, 2012. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Ms. Mara, a reporter for the privately owned paper Le Lynx, was denied entry even though she had presented her press credentials and explained to the officers that she had come to interview the bank's governor.

The CPJ clarified the details of the assault, saying:

Officials told her she posed a security threat to the bank employees, then a commanding officer ordered her to be ejected, the journalist told a local newspaper. Mara told CPJ that the officials pushed her and shoved her outside. She said she hit her head on a parked car and suffered multiple bruises on her body and had to go to the hospital for treatment.

Journalist Kounkou Mara, one day after the attack, photo published with the permission of the journalist.

Journalist Kounkou Mara, one day after the attack, photo published with the permission of the journalist.

Journalist Fatoumata Kéita of Guinean news website Kaloum Press reported on [fr] the police response following this assault:

Au cours d’une cérémonie qui s’est déroulée aujourd’hui au Conseil National de la Communication, la gendarmerie nationale a reconnu le tort commis par ses agents. « Dès que le Haut Commandant de la Gendarmerie nationale, Directeur de la Justice militaire a été saisi de cet incident qui est de nature à saper la liberté de la presse, des instructions fermes ont été données et les éléments mis en cause ont été aussitôt mis à la disposition de la Direction des investigations judiciaires pour des fins d'enquête. »….« Le Haut Commandement de la gendarmerie nationale réaffirme sa volonté de garantir la liberté de la presse en Guinée sans compter celles des libertés individuelles. »

During a ceremony that took place today at the National Communication Council, the Guinean police acknowledged the officers’ wrongdoing. “As soon as the commanding officer of the National Gendarmerie and the head of military justice, General Ibrahim Baldé, recognized that this incident undermined the spirit of freedom of the press, he gave instructions to release the evidence and for the accused officers to make themselves immediately available to the Ministry of Justice for this inquiry.”….. “The High Command of the National Gendarmerie reaffirmed the desire to guarantee freedom of the press in Guinea, and especially to protect individual liberties.”

Using playful language similar to that used by the satirical Le Lynx, Oumar Kateb Yacine reported [fr]:

Le vendredi 9 mars 2012, un gotha d’officiers de la gendarmerie nationale était devant les journalistes de tout secteur confondu. Pas pour une conférence de presse.  Mais pour une séance d’excuse.

Les pandores étaient venus demander pardon aux scribouillards, suite à une bavure commise par certains de leurs qui étaient en exercice de leur fonction au siège de la Banque centrale de la République de Guinée sur une consœur de la presse écrite privée, en l’occurrence Kounkou Mara du Groupe de presse le Lynx-la Lance qui, elle aussi, était en exercice de sa fonction.

On Friday, March 9, 2012, an elite group of National Gendarmerie officers stood before reporters from all sectors of the media. But not for a press conference. This was for an apology session.

The cops had come to ask for forgiveness from the pen pushers, following a blunder committed by some of them who were on duty at the headquarters of the Central Bank of the Republic of Guinea against a sister of the private press, in this case Kounkou Mara of the media group Le Lynx-La Lance, who was also just doing her duty.

Guinea achieved independence from France in 1958, since which time security guards and state representatives have tended to act with impunity and arrogance, until now. Journalist Boubacar Sanso Barry expressed the following [fr] in a post published on the Guinée Conakry Info website:

Ce n’est pas tous les jours qu’entre gendarmes guinéens et professionnels des médias de ce pays, le courant passe. Et c’est pourquoi la cérémonie de ce vendredi au CNC avait quelque chose de particulier. Parce que, pour une fois, la gendarmerie et les journalistes voyaient dans la même direction.

It is not every day that the channels of communication are open between the Guinean police and the journalists of this country. And this is why Friday's ceremony at CNC (National Communication Council) was something special. For once, the police and the press were seeing eye to eye.

The victim, Kounkou Mara, is a journalist known in her country for her seriousness and appreciated for her skill. She has worked for many years in the media group Lynx-Lance, considered to be one of the most respected in the field of Guinean media. Le Lynx, one of the premier satirical papers in Africa, uses a distinctive writing style and spares no one. Ms. Mara, one of the country's best reporters, won the Hadiatou Sow Award [fr] for female journalists, which has been awarded to the best reporters in the field since 2010.

This assault aroused intense indignation among journalists and Guinean and African bloggers. The blog africabusiness.com published a piece quoting Mohamed Keita, the advocacy coordinator for the CPJ's Africa Program:

 What happened to Kounkou Mara constitutes an assault, and authorities have an obligation to conduct a criminal investigation and bring appropriate charges. Guinea’s new democratically elected government has an opportunity to turn the page on years of abuse and impunity in security forces’ attacks on journalists.

On the blog Guinée Conakry Info, reporter Salematou Diallo added [fr]:

Et c’est justement la nature gratuite et totalement infondée de l’agression qui a conduit l’ensemble des professionnels des médias guinéens, à sortir de leur silence pour condamner cette attitude qui procède certainement d’un excès de zèle et d'un déficit de formation au sein des forces de défense et de sécurité nationales.

It is precisely the gratuitous and unprovoked nature of this assault that has led the Association of Guinean Journalists to end their silence, in order to condemn this attitude that surely stems from overzealousness and lack of training within the defense forces and national security.

Salematou Diallo quoted [fr] Martine Condé, president of the CNC, who expressed her indignation while pointing out the limits of freedom of the press in Guinea:

« Les journalistes ne sont pas des ennemis à abattre ». Elle a saisi l’occasion pour rappeler que « les sources non accessibles sont celles relatives à la sécurité intérieure et extérieure de l’Etat, à la protection de l’honneur et de la dignité du citoyen et au respect de l’instruction judiciaire ». Hormis ces dernières, précise-t-elle, la carte professionnelle donne au détenteur le droit d’accès à toutes les sources non protégées. Condamnant l’agression contre Kounkou Mara, Martine dit souhaiter de la part des autorités de la gendarmerie « des mesures disciplinaires à l’encontre des auteurs de ladite agression ».

“Journalists are not enemies to be fought”. She took the opportunity to remind us that “protected sources are essential to the internal and external security of the State, to the protection of honor and human dignity and respect for the judicial system.” In addition she pointed out that a press card gives the holder the right to access all unprotected sources. Condemning the attack against Kounkou Mara, Martine expressed her desire for the police authorities to take “disciplinary action against the perpetrators of this assault”.

This event took place not long after the adoption by the United Nations of a resolution on human rights in Guinea. Addressing this resolution, Aboubacar Cissé wrote [fr] in a post published on the site guineenews.org:

 Si dans son rapport, la haut commissaire [Navanethem Pillay] indexe l’impunité sur les événements du 28 septembre 2009, elle reconnait cependant que “la discipline commence à revenir au sein des forces armées et que le secteur de la justice commence également à mettre en œuvre les recommandations faites au cours de ses états généraux, avec la nomination de nouveaux juges pour revitaliser le système judiciaire en Guinée”. Le document souligne d’autre part les efforts fournis pour l’établissement d’une institution nationale indépendante des droits de l’homme et en faveur de la commission nationale de réconciliation.

If, in her report, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, indicates the impunity for the events of September 28, 2009, she nevertheless knows that “discipline is beginning to return to the armed forces and that the justice sector is also beginning to put in place the recommendations made during its general assembly, with the nomination of new judges to revitalize the Guinean judicial system.” Furthermore, the document emphasizes efforts to establish an independent national institution for human rights that supports the National Reconciliation Commission.

More than a year after the election of Alpha Condé to the presidency in November, 2010, and the formation of a civil government, there were still many human rights violations occurring, including occasional excessive violence and the murder of innocent people. In his post, Oumar Kateb Yacine, after remembering those who had seen the security forces use violence against citizens, wrote [fr]:

Certes, on nous apprend que pour tous ces cas cités ci-haut, les auteurs ont été radiés de l’effectif et mis à la disposition de la justice. Reste à savoir ce que fera cette dernière. Une tâche qui, en principe ne devrait pas être ardue dans la mesure où le Général Baldé, chef du Haut Commandant de la gendarmerie nationale est celui qui dirige la justice militaire. Une occasion pour lui d’extirper l’épine de ses pieds en sanctionnant ces malfrats à la hauteur de leur forfaiture.

We have learned that in all of the cases cited above, the perpetrators were removed from the workforce and brought to justice. However, it remains to be seen what the justice system will do. A task which should not be difficult in principle since General Baldé, commanding officer of the National Gendarmerie, is the one who leads the military justice system. This is a chance for him to get himself out of a hole by punishing the thugs in proportion to their abuse of authority.

In this audio file, Kounkou Mara recounts [fr] her unfortunate tale on the airwaves of Radio Espace, a radio station in Conakry, followed by a debate among journalists.

This post was sub-edited by Jane Ellis.

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