Guinean cleric charged with assault on Ebola worker

Guinea's health workers wearing protective suits carry the body of a victim of the Ebola virus at a Ebola treatement center near the hospital Donka in Conakry on September 14, 2014 (AFP Photo/Cellou Binani) (AFP/File)

Conakry (AFP) - A Muslim cleric who conducted the funeral rites of a suspected Ebola victim was charged Monday with assaulting an outreach worker who came to question him over the ceremony, a judicial source said.

El-Hadj Mohamed Soumah's arrest on February 9 led to demonstrations in the capital Conakry in which around a dozen people were wounded.

Demonstrators put up barricades, burned tyres and overturned rubbish bins before using sticks and stones to attack officers who responded with tear gas and baton charges.

A policeman on the scene told AFP officers had wanted simply to question the imam on the cause of death and the conditions at the burial.

"It is especially important to know that he didn't have Ebola to ensure the safety of his family and neighbours, including potential contacts," he said.

The judicial source, who requested anonymity, said Soumah's trial would begin on Tuesday.

Burial rites involving contact with bodies are among the main factors in the spread of Ebola, according to the World Health Organization.

President Alpha Conde has recently made several statements justifying the use of force to stop traditional funerals.

Guinea and its neighbours Sierra Leone and Liberia have registered more than 9,500 deaths since the epidemic flared up in December 2013.

Mobs have sporadically attacked health workers in all three countries after being taken in by a variety of conspiracy theories, often characterising the outbreak as a plot by the West to murder Africans and harvest their organs.

Guinea has seen the worst of the bloodshed and the situation is particularly tense in the densely-forested southern region, where the epidemic began.

In September last year, eight members of an outreach team were killed by protesters denying the existence of Ebola and denouncing a "white conspiracy" in the southeastern town of Womey.