Is freedom of the press threatened in Mali ?

After three days of “dead journey” for the press in Mali, Malian journalists have finally obtained the partial release of their colleague Boukary Daou, director of Le républicain newspaper. His arrest raises questions about freedom of the press in Mali.

Journalists made a statement with what they called a “Dead journey” to support one of their colleague who was arrested last week after having published an open letter from Malian militaries which was critical about one of their chief. It is not a story about the issues of covering the war or even about the exactions of the Malian army. Boukary Daou was arrested by Malian intelligence agents because he had published an open letter on the 6th of March addressed to Amadou Sanogo, an army captain who toppled the Malian president last year. The Malian soldiers  who wrote the letter accused Sanogo causing a political chaos last year with his coup. But they mostly denounce the financial benefits of the salary Sanogo is currently receiving, which is believed to be 8000 dollars per month. Amadou Haya Sanogo was also named to head a government committee to oversee reforms in the military. This decision surprised a lot of observers because of the dark past of Sanogo. In 2012, after the coup, Human Rights Watch denounced security forces’torture and abuses but also their intimidation of journalists:

“Members of state security forces have tried to suppress the publication of information regarding abuses in the aftermath of the failed counter-coup. They have called in for questioning or visited the offices of at least five journalists and two civil servants who were investigating the coup, the treatment of detainees, enforced disappearances, or the existence of a mass grave. While the journalists and civil servants did not suffer any physical aggression during the questioning, they reported being pressured to reveal their sources, drop their investigations, and desist from publishing or speaking about the events. Several believed their phone conversations were routinely intercepted by the state security forces. The intimidation of journalists appears to form part of a wider crackdown on Malian journalism, which began after the March 22 coup and has since intensified.” the Human Rights report says in July 2012.

Screenshot of a supporting campaign for Boukary Daou by the website Maliweb

Screenshot of a supporting campaign for Boukary Daou by the website Maliweb

The untouchable captain?

According to Professor Bruce Whitehouse who writes the blog, Bridges from Bamako, this story reflects what has been left out by international media: the dissension in the army ranks which has been pointed out by the junior officer in the open letter of Boukary Daou. He ends the letter by saying if Sanogo does not answer, he and his colleagues will stop the fighting. According to Bruce Whitehouse, this story raises many problems, such as “who is in charge in Bamako ?” and how much power the armys has. According to BBC report, “Malian authorities say Daou was arrested for being irresponsible and unpatriotic in publishing the letter”. No word from the government has been said on this issue except by Malian Foreign Affairs Minister, Tieman Coulibaly, who said that there was “no junta in Mali” and that Sanogo “is a Malian soldier who can lead the reform”. Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Affairs Minister also said during a TV debate that “military power should be submitted to civil power…” but he also said he was sure that the Malian government would do everything to insure press freedom.US ambasador to Mali also expressed her concern and urged for the protection of media “under the law”.

TV debate on TV5 Monde with Laurent Fabius and Tieman Coulibaly

The Malian Dioncounda Traore spoke out during a press conference and said that the person who signed the letter “Captain Toure” did not exist and accused the journalist to encourage to mutiny for the front soldiers. The Malian president said the law will decide wether he is guilty or not.

The Malian media is supporting Boukary Daou and after three days of symbolic strike,  they suceeded in getting their colleague’s arrest to be handled by the police. Makan Koné, director of the house of press in Mali asked for the freedom of his colleague. The jounalists also denounce the lack of legal procedure for Boukary Daou’s arrest. The International Federation of journalists and the NGO Reporters Without Borders have also supported the movement. This arrest has happened in a quite fragile media landscape without any precise legal frame.

A radio journalist told the BBC it twas not the first time that such arbitrary arrests : The situation is chaotic for the media because there are people in authority who believe that if we’re stopped from denouncing what they’re up to, then they’ll get away with it “ Ramata Dia from Radio Guntan says.

On the 11th of March, during their first general Assembly, thirteen journalists had denounced a degradation of press freedom in Mali according to TV5 Monde report. The country was ranked 25th in Reporters Without Borders report on press freedom in 2012. It is now at the 99th position. Today, Boukary Daou is being judged by the judiciary police but he still risks prosecutions from the military juntia. His colleagues are alo waiting to know more about his treatment when he was imprisoned. No information has been released yet about the soldiers who first wrote the open letter.

Lilia Blaise

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