Police in the West African state of Guinea are facing a storm of criticism over a viral video that apparently showed them using a woman as a human shield against stone-throwing protestors.
The video, whose source cannot be independently verified but whose authenticity has not been contested, spread fast on social media late Wednesday.
The footage is dated as of Wednesday and gives the location as the district of Wanindara.
It shows four helmeted policemen facing young protestors throwing stones.
One of the police moves in front of the protestors, pushing a woman in front of him, apparently against her will.
After an exchange of stones and anti-riot projectiles, the police suddenly fall back. The police officer grabs the woman under his arm and after a few yards appears to be dragging her along the ground.
The video has notched up several hundred thousand views and triggered a wave of online attacks on security forces.
General Ansoumane Baffoe Camara, director general of Guinea’s national police force, told AFP that the main figure in the video had been arrested and “will answer for his actions”.
The woman in the video, Fatoumata Bah, told local media that she was injured in the incident and went to hospital for treatment and then went home.
Bah, mother of five, says the police searched her, shoved her and threw her to the ground. Young protesters in the district recorded the incident, she said.
“Today, I’m in a lot of pain. My right foot is sprained and I have scratches on almost all of my legs,” she said. “It was an insult to my dignity.”
– Months of protests –
Police presented the alleged perpetrator, Brigadier Mamadou Lamarana Bah, who is unrelated to the victim, to reporters after his arrest. He claimed she had been supplying stones to the protesters, but that he had grabbed her to protect her.
“I swear before God, I never wanted to hurt her, it was just to save her.”
Senior police officials said there was no doubt he had been sheltering behind the woman.
Guinea has been battered by months of political turmoil, triggered by suspicions that President Alpha Conde, 81, wants to change the constitution in order to stay in power.
At least 28 civilians and one gendarme have died, according to an AFP tally.
The National Front for the Defence for the Constitution (FNDC), which is organising the protests, led the criticism on social media Thursday.
The video, it said on Facebook, added to a litany of abuses by the security forces — “firing on people in cemeteries, places of worship, even on ambulances.”
“Now Alpha Conde’s militia (is carrying out) hostage-taking,” it charged.
The security ministry on Thursday said it was “completely unacceptable for innocent people to suffer from operations to maintain order.”
It said investigations had been immediately launched into “recently recorded cases” and any policeman in the wrong would be “sought out and punished.”
In November, Amnesty International said that 70 demonstrators or passers-by had been killed in rallies since 2015 and attacked what it called the “impunity” of the security forces.