Did police in Guinea fire on protesters?
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Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the west African nation of Guinea on January 13. A deadly crackdown ensued – two people were killed, including one 21-year-old student, and videos emerged showing the police firing live ammunition. The FRANCE 24 Observers team investigated.
The protests were called by a coalition called The National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (In French, FNDC or Le Front national de la défense de la Constitution), which brings together civil society groups and opposition parties who oppose a constitutional reform that would allow Guinean President Alpha Condé to serve a third term. One of the most prominent members of the FNDC is Cellou Dalein Diallo, who is the head of the opposition party UFDG.
Readers sent our team numerous videos showing brutal police violence towards protesters. One of those videos clearly shows a police officer shoot at several people who are standing in the entrance of a building. This video (below) was filmed in the Cosa neighbourhood in Ratoma, a town that makes up the urban sprawl of the Guinean capital Conakry. The footage was originally posted on the Facebook page of the website Vérité 224.
When our team looked into the footage, we found out that the shooting happened right in front of Dogomet Clinic. That’s significant because the clinic was holding the body of 21-year-old student Mamadou Sow, who was killed by police according to his family – although the government contests this narrative.
Sow was drinking coffee in a neighbourhood café when a police officer shot him in the chest, according to his big brother Abdoulaye Sow who spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers.
'Officers fired in the direction of the hospital'The person who filmed this video didn’t want to speak to the press. However, the FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to a witness who was inside the clinic when the shooting occurred. He asked to remain anonymous.
On Monday, I got a call that a young man had been shot in the chest and killed, and that his body was in Dogomet Clinic. I went to the clinic and the family of the victim were already gathered there. It was about 2pm.
Friends of the family were stopping by to pay their respects, so there were lots of people there. That’s when the police showed up. They wanted to arrest the young men who were standing in the entrance to the clinic and the parents of the victim. Some people resisted arrest and the officers fired shots in the direction of the hospital. Luckily, no one was injured.
Our Observer also sent us photos of cartridge cases and bullets that he found near the clinic. We sent these images to a ballistics expert.
Cartridge cases found near Dogomet Clinic in Cosa.
'This caliber wasn’t made for those meant to be keeping the peace'
These are 7.62 x 39 mm caliber bullets, which fit assault rifles like AK-47s, Kalashnikovs and AKMs. The cartridge case has the code "539" on it, which means it was made back in 1978 in the Tula arsenal in the then USSR.
The shots were fired by weapons meant for war. This caliber of bullet wasn’t made for those meant to be keeping the peace.
The ammunitions expert also watched the video of the shots being fired:
The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to Albert Damatang Camara, the Minister of Public Safety. He told our team that he had also seen the video but said the shots didn’t come from a lethal weapon.
The shots fired in the video sound like 7.62 x 39 mm caliber bullets being fired by an assault rifle. The noise does reverberate and change a little because of the walls on either side of the area where it detonates.
The footage isn’t very clear because you see people coming and going. But that shot wasn’t fired by a lethal weapon. It’s the sound of a tear gas canister that was launched by a Cougar [a type of grenade launcher]. Our men have been unequivocal about that.
As for the photos showing the cartridge cases that were found nearby, well, we are in an area where a lot of weapons circulate. In the days leading up to the protests, several people were arrested for possession of war weapons.
So even if weapons or ammunition from war weapons were found on site, it doesn’t mean that they belong to the police, to soldiers or to gendarmes.
The ballistics expert says he isn’t convinced by the Minister’s argument that the sound was made by an exploding tear gas cannister.
If you use a Cougar to launch a tear gas cannister, it doesn’t fire horizontally. But that is clearly what is happening in the video. The smoke from the weapon is at face-level, which is what happens when a gun is at shoulder level. Assault rifles are what sit on people’s shoulders.
We also watched a second video that has been circulating on social media. It shows security forces firing their weapons while being filmed without their knowledge.
The ballistics expert says that an assault rifle fired the shots you can hear in this video. You can see a curved cartridge clip on the weapon that’s typical of an AKM or AK-47. The strap used to carry the weapon is also typical of an assault rifle.
Camara did tell our team that another video filmed in the Cosa neighbourhood did show officers firing live ammunition, but he wouldn’t tell us which one.
“An internal investigation is being carried out to identify the person responsible and punish him,” he said.
Ratoma, a site of recurring violence
Videos posted on social media show police officers destroying property, beating people up and even setting fire to part of Ratoma’s local market.
Faced with the “poor behaviour of certain officers” that “undermines the noble efforts of the National Police”, Ansoumane Camara, the Director General of the National Police, announced in a circular note on Wednesday that a special investigation commission would be established to identify those responsible for these crimes.
'There may have been errors'The Ratoma neighbourhood, which is a bastion of the opposition, is the sight of frequent clashes between security forces and civilians. Back in October, a similarly violent crackdown quashed protests and resulted in the death of about a dozen people, including 18-year-old Bah Thierno Sadou. The police then fired tear gas at his grieving family.
Back in October 2019, a Ratoma resident told the FRANCE 24 Observers that the area was often targeted by security forces during demonstrations.
We put that statement to the Minister for Public Safety, Albert Damatang Camara:
Normal security protocols are put in place to manage peaceful protests. But when it gets more violent, it can be difficult to know who is protesting peacefully and who has criminal intentions.
It’s possible that errors have been made. But I contest the idea that there is a specific location where we sent gendarmes and police to shoot on the population.
This article was written by Hermann Boko