Two days after the coup that toppled Guinean President Alpha Conde, the coup leaders kept their promise by allowing the first group of political prisoners to release on Tuesday, September 7. As they left the civil prison in Conakry, these opposition figures to the deposed president were greeted by cries of joy.
While the former head of state is still held in their hands, the military led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya sent a strong signal to turn the page on the regime of Alpha Conde.
A total of 79 opponents left Conakry’s central prison late Tuesday, September 7, according to the Front National for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC). This civic group initiated the protests against the new Constitution, which allowed Alpha Conde to run for a third term in 2020.
Cries of Joy
Abdoulaye Sadio Diallo is an activist and independent journalist in Conakry. He followed the release of opponents in the capital: “Yesterday, I was live in front of the central house of Conakry as a journalist. Some citizens had come to welcome their ‘heroes’. At about 7 p.m., the prisoners were released. On their faces, one could understand the joy, they were happy.”
In particular, Abdoulaye Bah, leader of the UFDG [the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, the main opposition party, editor’s note], who had been arrested after the re-election of Alpha Condé in October 2020, was seen. They expressed their joy, said they had no regrets, and saluted Colonel Mamady Doumbouya.
In front of the central house, the citizens were waiting for them. When they came out, there were cries of joy, tears, it was a real liberation. There were family members of the detainees, journalists who came to immortalize the event, activists, and citizens invested in the fight against the regime. A whole procession accompanied the bus in which they boarded. It was a new lease of life.
After the announcement of the coup, one of the main demands was the release of political detainees: it was eagerly awaited. Political detainees speak out after their release from Conakry’s central house on September 7.
“We felt free”
Among the detainees whose release was particularly eagerly awaited was also Foniké Menguè. This activist, head of the organization Turn the page, and the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution was arrested in Conakry in September 2020 and had seen his health deteriorate. He was hospitalized on Tuesday.
Alfa Diallo, a blogger, and president of Ablogui, the Association of Guinean bloggers, is close to Foniké Menguè. He spent part of the day in the hospital awaiting his discharge before returning to the central house to follow the first releases: After following the release at the central house, I went back to the hospital to accompany the discharge of Foniké Menguè. There, the crowd present was made up of civil society activists, members of the Sekou Touré movement founded by Foniké Menguè, and young people.”
Arms of the junta
“These releases are a positive point, but it is not enough to know what this junta wants. We are happy that Condé is gone, but that does not mean that we are falling into the arms of the junta. It must do more, show its will to establish a democratic system in Guinea. We would like to know the duration of the transition and who will participate in it. I fear seeing people from the old systems, not just Alpha Condé’s, come and take the transition hostage,” said the blogger.
Their release was expected on Monday, but the FNDC wished to avoid the “rush”: “Our concern was that they release only the most famous prisoners”, said Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, FNDC communication manager.
He says the FNDC has drawn up a list including both the names of the main opponents imprisoned at the central house in Conakry – and whose release was eagerly awaited – and those of anonymous arrested during demonstrations against the new Constitution or after the October 2020 election.
The FNDC and around thirty lawyers are now trying to identify the opponents detained in other prisons in the country, but this operation should still take time because, according to Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, some prisoners have never been presented to a prosecutor.