Guinea: Heavy punishment for libel

19 August 2007 at 04:06 | 2810 views

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the heavy fines and six-month suspended prison sentences imposed by a court in Kaloum (a district of Conakry) on 13 August on Thiernodjo Diallo, managing editor of the weekly La Vérité, and Aziz Camara, managing editor of the weekly Libération, for allegedly libelling former public works and transport minister Bahna Sidibé.

The court fined both newspapers 50 million francs (9,500 euros), ordered them to pay the court 1 million francs (189 euros) in costs and ordered them to pay for the verdict to be published in three other privately-owned weeklies, L’Indépendant, Le Lynx and La Lance.

“These sentences could not only end up silencing these newspapers and their editors, they are also contrary to international press freedom standards,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By persisting in having defamation cases tried as crimes, Guinea is exposing itself to the condemnation of press freedom activists. To modernise the country properly, the government must reform its legislation so that the courts can issue appropriate decisions and not be suspected of bias.”

The judge ruled that the newspapers failed to support the allegations they made in articles published in March and April of this year that Sidibé embezzled about 1 billion francs (255,000 euros) in public funds. The claims were first made in an article headlined “Public Works Ministry - Bahna Sidibé’s other face,” that was published by La Vérité on 20 March. They were repeated the following month by Libération.

The two newspapers have appealed against the verdict, claiming the court was subjected to pressure. A Guinean journalist told Reporters Without Borders these are the severest sentences to be imposed on privately-owned news media since the introduction of a multi-party political system in 1993.