A court in Guinea convicted and ordered arrest of twelve opposition and civil society leaders on Tuesday for organising protests against a possible amendment to the constitution that could allow President Alpha Conde to contest in the election for a third term, reported Reuters.
Notably, the second and final five-year term of the 81-year-old president Conde expires next year. He has refused to rule out running again and asked his government last month to look into drafting a new constitution.
The court found the accused guilty of spearheading a wave of unauthorized protests on October 14 that claimed at least 9 lives. During the protests, the police forces opened fire on demonstrators as they ransacked military posts and blocked roads with burning tyres.
The judge in the case ordered a one-year jail term for Abdourahmane Sanoh, a former government minister and an organiser of the demonstrations last week, for inciting civil disobedience. Four other members of the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), a coalition of politicians and activists opposed to a constitutional change, were given six-month sentences. Three others were acquitted.
The defence said it planned to appeal, while the prosecution, which had been seeking five-year sentences, is also expected to appeal. The defendants were arrested in the days leading up to the protests.
“Everything has been done to silence our clients for a long time because it has been decided they will be obstacles to (Conde’s) plan to seek a third term,” Mohamed Traore, one of the lawyers, told reporters after the verdict was read.
Rights group Amnesty International criticised the court’s ruling, saying no body should be detained for having organised or called for a peaceful demonstration.
“The sentencing of leaders of civil society shows the desire of Guinean authorities to crush all forms of dissent,” Francois Patuel, Amnesty researcher, said.