TWENTY YEARS AGO: Conakry, Guinea, September 15, 2000. The Guinean opposition leader, Alpha Conde, was sentenced to five years in prison after been found guilty of sedition. The state prosecutor had demanded that Mr Conde be sentenced to life imprisonment on several charges including endangering state security and recruiting foreign mercenaries. Mr Conde, who leads the Guinean People’s Rally, denied the charges, accusing those who testified against him as “false witnesses” and maintaining that all the charges had been fabricated.
“I am an intellectual; my fight is a fight of ideas. My weapons are my pen and my speech,” Mr Conde said before the verdict.
He was arrested after the presidential election in 1998, in which President Lansana Conte came to power amid allegations of vote-rigging.
Seven of the 47 people accused with Mr Conde were given prison sentences ranging from 18 months to three years. The others were released or acquitted. The opposition leader initially had a team of international defence lawyers, but they withdrew after the judge rejected their calls for the case to be thrown out on the grounds that it violated Mr Conde’s parliamentary immunity. The last of the seven defence lawyers, Paul Yomba Kourouma, told the Conakry court that several of the detainees had been tortured following their arrests. He also questioned the reliability of witnesses for the prosecution.
Mr. Conde was formerly professor of politics at the Sorbonne University in Paris. His trial was interpreted as an important test for democracy in Guinea – a country that was under military rule for most of the time since independence from France over 40 years ago.
AND TWENTY YEARS LATER: Still in Conakry, Guinea—-Professor Condé is now determined to die in power. He has changed the country’s constitution, extending the presidential term limit through brute force and amidst bloodshed. Today, he is now putting himself forward for a third term: what an irony!