Five opposition and civil society leaders in Guinea were convicted and sentenced to prison for organising protests against a possible change to the constitution that could let President Alpha Conde seek a third term.
Abdourahmane Sanoh, a former government minister and an organiser of demonstrations last week which resulted in at least nine deaths, received a one-year jail term for inciting civil disobedience, the judge in the case said.
Four other members of the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), a coalition of politicians and activists opposed to a constitutional change, received six month sentences. Three others were acquitted.
The defence and prosecution, seeking five year sentences, planned to appeal. The defendants were arrested ahead of the protests.
“Everything has been done to silence our clients for a long time because was been decided they will be obstacles to Conde’s plan to seek a third term,” Mohamed Traore, one of the lawyers, told reporters after the verdict was read.
The 81-year-old Conde, whose second and final five-year term expires next year, refused to rule out running again and asked government to look at drafting a new constitution.
Opponents fear that could be a reset button on his presidency, allowing him to run again like other African leaders who amend or change constitutions to stay in power.
During last week’s protests in Conakry and opposition strongholds in the north, police opened fire on demonstrators as they ransacked military posts and blocked roads with burning tyres.
Conde’s first election win in 2010 raised hopes for democratic progress in Guinea after two years of military rule and nearly a quarter a century under authoritarian President Lansana Conte, who died in 2008.
Critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent and violently repressing protests – charges he denies.