Guinea Frontline Reporter: Diallo Nassirou
Before he fled from the stadium Diallo says he saw the boy who had been following him, now lying dead, with his cell phone next to him. He also saw an ugly scene, of a soldier who had run out of bullets, ripping a woman's belly with his bayonet.
Diallo Nassirou is a frontline journalist. A reporter who has dodged bullets and death in the interest of bringing out the news. He's lucky to be alive today, as he told me when we met recently here in New York.
It's always an honor to meet people like Diallo--those who pursue the news without fear.
On September 28, 2009, Diallo was at the stadium in Guinea, when soldiers fired the shots that were later heard all over the world.
Ironically, the stadium is also named September 28; it recalls the famous day in 1958 when Guineans voted in a referendum to separate itself from France, which was then the colonial power. Few countries had dared follow that bold move.
But the stadium became infamous in 2009. When the shooting was all over, an estimated 150 civilians had been killed, according to Human Rights Watch. "It was more than 200," Diallo estimates, noting that many bodies were quickly removed by the military.
Some died from bullets, some were trampled, while some women had their bellies and private parts ripped with bayonets; scores others were raped.
The United States, shamefully first had a muted response to the Guinea atrocities. Later, when details of the brutality of the crackdown against the pro-democracy movement began to emerge around the world, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the military junta headed by Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, who'd been in power since December 23, 2008. She called for those responsible for the massacre to be prosecuted. The International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague later announced that charges were being considered against the junta leadership.
Diallo, 27, is now in New York City, a refugee from his country. He had been a reporter with Radio Nostalgie, one of several private stations opened in 2006 when the government in Guinea was pressured into liberalizing media space as condition for financial assistance from the European Union (EU). Even though Diallo studied law when he was at the university at Guinea, he says he had fallen in love with journalism when he covered a soccer game as a boy for a school newspaper.
On the day before the march, on September 27, Diallo had been picked up by the Guinean military and taken to a command post. It wasn't the first time he'd been illegally arrested. On each occasion, he would be warned and told that his journalism would one day get him in serious trouble. His boss, the owner of Nostalgie, often paid military commanders to get him
The September 27 arrest was different. The junta leadership was nervous because word had spread about the big march planned for the next day. When Capt. Camara seized power, Guineans had celebrated. He had promised to hold free and open elections within a year and vowed that he himself would not run for office.
Months later, Camara, enjoying the trappings of power changed his mind. He too would now run for office. Yet the junta sensed that things wouldn't be easy. On radio shows, such as Diallo's political program on Radio Nostalgie, callers voiced opposition to Camara's plans to extend the army's domination of politics.
When he was taken to a command post on September 27, Diallo says he was told to sign a statement affirming that he would not be at the protest march the next day. The military commanders feared that he would broadcast his show live--he often did shows away from the studio so ordinary people could hear themselves on radio.
Diallo, whose English is impressive for someone who's been studying the language for only a few months, says he was beaten on his back when he refused to sign. He says a commander pushed the barrel of a pistol on his neck and said he would shoot him if he refused--he still wouldn't relent.
The commander than ordered soldiers to strip Diallo naked. He says it was at that point that he feared fiendish torture and agreed to sign the papers and he was released.
When he arrived home that evening, his wife urged him to promise that he would not attend the march. But the next morning, he was there with his radio equipment at Belle Vue junction where the march was supposed to start, just outside the capital city of Conakry and 10 minutes from the stadium. "I could not live with my conscience. I told people to come on the radio," he says. After interviewing people about the impending protest on one of his shows, it would have been hypocritical for him to stay away.
Initially, the army blocked the road leading into the city and towards the stadium. Diallo, meanwhile, began a live broadcast. This did not last long, as soldiers went to the radio station and forced the owner to turn him off air. Yet the numbers kept swelling and soon the soldiers had to yield and allow the marchers to proceed.
As media accounts later showed, it was a peaceful march, with people denouncing Camara and demanding for civilian elections, Diallo says. The military became nervous because of the overwhelming turnout. Diallo says, on his way to the stadium, a young boy of about 13 started talking with him and following him, having recognized him from a television commercial which he was featured on.
When Diallo entered the stadium, soldiers started firing, initially at the deck reserved for VIPs and where leaders of the political opposition and the protest organizers were seated. Then they started firing wildly into the crowd.
A military convoy led by Lieutenant Toumba Diakite, who was the commander of Capt. Camara presidential protection unit, opened a path for Diakate by firing from mounted guns into the crowd.
Before he fled from the stadium Diallo says he saw the boy who had been following him, now lying dead, with his cell phone next to him. He also saw an ugly scene, of a soldier who had run out of bullets, ripping a woman's belly with his bayonet. He also saw people being trampled as he ran from the stadium.
Diallo rushed home and sent his wife and adoptive child out of the capital city. He was then smuggled by a friend in an ambulance to the airport and managed to get on a plane to Paris on the same night of September 28. The airport was closed for a while the next day.
Diallo had a following not only within Guinea but also among Guineans outside the country. Since fleeing Guinea, Diallo has travelled to Brussels, Belgium, to meet with Diaspora Guineans, as well as Washington, D.C., and now New York City.
Although he lost his platform on Radio Nostalgie, Diallo continues reporting, receiving information on a daily basis from sources in Guinea and by phone calls to the country. He now disseminates his information through blogtalkradio.com The show is called Le Quatrieme Pouvoir or "The Fourth Power."
"The show promotes democracy and good governance," he says.
After universal condemnation of the massacre from the international community the junta leadership itself split and Capt. Camara was wounded with gunshots to the head by his top security official Lieutenant Diakite, who is reputedly one of those commanders wanted by the International Criminal Court for his leading role in the killings.
Capt. Camara was flown to Morocco for treatment and is now in Burkina Faso.
Guinea has a new interim government that includes a civilian prime minister, Jean-Marie Doré, and the current army commander, Gen. Sekouba Konate.
Elections are scheduled for June 27, this year.
As for Diallo's own plans and what he hopes for his country?
"I hope now it will be a good opportunity for my country to become democratic," Diallo says. "If all the Guineans take matters into our hands. If we are vigilante. In 50 years we have had only two presidents."
Ahmed Sékou Touré was Guinea's president at independence. He ruled until 1984. Lansana Conté, who seized power after Touré, ruled with a heavy hand until he died in 2008; Camara then seized control.
Diallo says Guineans and the world must keep a watchful eye even though Gen. Konate has vowed that he and the rest of the interim leadership will not stand for the elections. "Konate was Camara's friend and they took power together. The difference here is the help of the international community. Now the international community is engaged with Guinea and Konate made the promise in front of the international community."
Konate may also have incentive to deliver on the promise. He too had been on the ICC wanted list --his name has since been removed, Diallo says.
"As for me when I was in my country I never studied journalism because we do not have a journalism school in Guinea at the time I went to university. Now I hope to improve my English and go to journalism school at Columbia."
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