CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Oury Bailo Bah was on the phone with his brother when he heard crackling, gunshots and screams in the background at the stadium where protesters had gathered in 2009.
He urged El Hadj Hassane Bah to stay on the line as he attempted to flee the gunfire from members of the presidential guard known as the red berets.
“He was running and all of a sudden, apparently, the phone dropped because I could hear the surrounding noises, but not my brother,” Oury Bailo Bah said Tuesday. “He didn’t answer anymore.”
Witnesses and victims’ relatives, including Oury Bailo Bah, began giving testimony Tuesday in the trial of 11 defendants charged with murder over the Sept. 28, 2009 massacre that left at least 157 protesters dead and dozens of women raped. As many as 400 people are expected to testify in the coming weeks.
Among those charged is former coup leader Moussa “Dadis” Camara, who testified in December that he had been asleep as the massacre unfolded.
The demonstrators at the stadium that day were protesting Camara’s plans to run for president. The junta said “uncontrolled” elements of the army carried out the rapes and killings. But a Human Rights Watch investigation found that Camara’s top aides were at the stadium and did nothing to stop the violence.
Several months later Camara survived an assassination attempt and fled to Burkina Faso where he lived in exile for more than a decade before returning to stand trial in Guinea.
During his testimony Tuesday, Oury Bailo Bah described the chaos and heartbreak that confronted victims’ families that day. After learning about the massacre on television, he went from hospital to hospital visiting morgues in hope of finding his brother’s body.
“Trucks came, three trucks full of bodies and wounded. I had never seen so much blood from a human being. Human blood was flowing as if we were at a butcher shop,” he recalled.
It would take five more days before the families would be allowed to come and collect the bodies, he said. Dozens of corpses, though, were not there.
Oury Bailo Bah says he knows his brother died that day — he held up a picture of his body in court on Tuesday that was taken in the aftermath of the violence at the stadium. But the family was never able to locate his remains.
Oury Bailo Bah said he had tried to conceal that detail from his mother, hoping to spare her further grief by saying instead that his body was too decomposed to be buried.
“She said to me: ‘Even if he is a mess, you have to put him in a bag and send him to me. I want to see it.’” he testified. “It was at that precise moment that I was forced to admit to her that the body had not been found.”
“We don’t have a grave to gather at,” he said. “What we have left of him is his memory. I would like, Mr. President, to be told where my brother’s body is.”