15 August 2007

Guinea: Court Convicts Two Journalists of Defamation

press release

A Magistrate Court in Conakry on 13 August 2007 convicted two journalists of two privately-owned weekly newspapers for defaming Bahna Sidibe, a former minister of Works in Guinea.

Thiernodjo Diallo and Abdoul Aziz Camara, managing editors of "La Vérite" and "Libération" newspapers respectively, were handed six-month suspended sentences and fines of 50 million Guinean francs (approx. US$12,781) each. Another fine of one million Guinean francs (approx. US$256) is to be paid to Bahna as damages.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) correspondent reported that the journalists had accused the former minister of having misappropriated funds of the ministry.

"La Vérite" first published the allegation in its 20 March edition. In the said article, headlined: "Ministry of Works/The other face of Bahna Sidibe", Thiernodjo alleged that the former minister diverted an amount of one billion Guinean francs (approx. US$255,624) meant for road infrastructure to build his private apartment.

In its 44th edition, published in April, "Libération" confirmed "La Vérite"'s allegations.

The former minister, who was not happy with the publication, sued the journalists for defamation.

In his ruling, N'Fansoumane Toure, the presiding magistrate, said that two journalists could not prove the allegations they made against the former minister. The journalists have since condemned the sentence. "It is a travesty of justice. The presiding magistrate has been bribed by Bahna Sidibe. We challenged him, but he still passed the judgement", said Thiernodjo. The journalists have appealed the sentence.

The MFWA is worried about the exorbitant fines inflicted against the journalists. We maintain that whilst damages for the alleged slur on the former minister's reputation may have a deterrent value, the effect of such claims should not be of such punitive levels that the very existent or viability of the media is jeopardized.

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