West Africa: Trade Unions Threaten Nationwide Strike Over Detention of Journalist

Protesting journalists (file photo).
press release

Today February 16, 2024 marks 28 days since the arrest and detention of Guinean journalist Sékou Jamal Pendessa.

The detention of the senior journalist has aroused a lot of emotions in media circles and beyond, with Guinea's trade union organisation threatening a nationwide strike if he is not released.

Pendessa is Secretary-General of the Syndicat des Professionnels de la Presse de Guinée (SPPG), an organisation of media professionals registered with the Syndicat des travailleurs de la Guinea (STG), the country's national trade union. He was arrested on January 19, 2024 and charged with unauthorised demonstration and publication of data likely to undermine public order and security.

The charges against him stem from a publication calling on journalists and the public to demonstrate against the government for jamming the broadcasts of radio stations and restricting the internet. All public processions having been formally banned in the country since 2022, the SPPG Secretary-General's statement calling for a protest was judged to be a breach of the junta's decree. The journalist has, therefore been detained at Conakry's central prison.

The media actors have put up a vigorous legal defense for the journalist and refused all dialogue, demanding the unconditional release of their colleague. With a deadline of February 16 for Pendessa's release elapsing today, the national trade union, STG is set to bring the country to industrial standstill with a nationwide strike.

"If he [Pendessa] is not released by the 16th [February 2024], the Guinean trade union movement has decided to go on strike, which means an unlimited general strike throughout the national territory." Abdoulaye Cissé, Director of Communication of the SPPG, told the MFWA via messaging App.

MFWA joins the media in Guinea to demand the unconditional release of Sékou Jamal Pendessa, and urges the junta to end the serial crackdowns on freedom of expression and assembly in the country. As the country's workers gear up for a defiant demonstration in the coming days, we urge the authorities to take all precautions to avoid the use of excessive, possibly lethal, force against the marchers.

While we call on the would-be demonstrators to be civil, we expect that the security agencies with be professional and measured in their response to pockets of irregular conduct that might occur rather than exploit such situations to unleash mayhem. As the entity with the ultimate responsibility for the social harmony of the country, the government must graciously release Pendessa and dialogue with the media to end the unnecessary tension.

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