The Guinean government should investigate the role of two high-level officials in the apparent illegal detention and intimidation of members of a prominent Guinean human rights group, Human Rights Watch said today. The actions of the Conakry governor, Sékou Resco Camara, and a high-level police colonel, Amadou Camara, amount to both an abuse of authority and a clear attempt to interfere in the independence of the judiciary, Human Rights Watch said.
Five staff members of Les Mêmes Droits Pour Tous (Same Rights For All, or MDT), including its president, Frédéric Foromo Loua, a lawyer, were detained on November 3, 2011, and subjected to hours of interrogation by police, apparently under the orders of the two officials. At one point, witnesses heard the governor order the police to shoot the activists if they moved.
The members of the group were detained as they tried to accompany two released prisoners out of Conakry’s main prison. Both the attorney general in Conakry and the national director of prisons had ordered the men’s release. The police have since returned the two released prisoners to detention, where they remain. One had been held in pretrial detention since 2001 and the other since 2005.
“These unacceptable actions by Conakry’s governor and a high-level police officer are not only a gross abuse of authority, but also a blatant interference with judiciary independence,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to investigate immediately what happened to these rights advocates and to hold everyone responsible to account.”
The MDT staff members were detained within the headquarters of the Police Special Interventions Unit (Compagnie Spéciale d’Intervention de la Police,CSIP), which is under the command of Colonel Camara. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Colonel Camara objected to freeing the prisoners “because releasing them would encourage crime.” Shortly thereafter, Governor Camara, who is not related to the colonel, arrived at the headquarters and ordered the arrest of the five MDT staff for “supporting delinquents.” The governor then ordered about 20 policemen, some of whom were armed, to accompany the MDT staff to their offices and to have them produce their work authorization.
A witness told Human Rights Watch that before leaving the CSIP, he heard Governor Camara order the policemen to shoot any MDT staff trying to flee from the office. Camara was also heard to say that, “I’ve heard people talking about this NGO and it’s time that we’re finished with them.”
After the police officers brought the rights advocates back to the police station, they were questioned for two hours. After nearly nine hours in police custody, the staff members were released, but ordered to return the next morning for additional questioning.
When they returned on November 4, the rights advocates were held for five more hours. After the prosecutor general and attorney general met with the regional security director, the MDT staff members were released without charge.
MDT has been working since 2004 to promote and defend the rights of Guineans denied the right to due process, by providing free legal aid to adult and juvenile prisoners, particularly those held illegally or suffering from serious medical conditions. They have provided free legal assistance to over 2,000 prisoners held in illegal pretrial detention.