- Malian security demonstrated their true unfriendly media colours when they pounced on a group of journalists protesting against the imprisonment of their colleagues in the capital Bamako. The riot police mercilessly assaulted the President of the Malian and West African Journalists’ Associations, Ibrahim Famakan Coulibaly.
As a result, the WAJA chief has been hospitalised for sustaining serious injuries on his legs.
Malian security also fired tear gas at protesting journalists who held protest in front of the Justice Minister’s office. They were demanding the immediate and unconditional release of their colleagues who have been jailed without being tried in a court of law.
Six Malians, including five journalists were jailed by the security forces in connection with a fictional presidential sex scandal article - an assignment given to a group of secondary school students by a literature teacher in Bamako.
"We are outraged by the attack on Coulibaly," protested Gabriel Baglo, the Director of the International Federation of Journalists Africa Office. "We support the protests by Malian journalists and stand in solidarity with them against these unjust charges," he said.
Seydina Oumar Diarra, a journalist of Info-Matin and Bassirou Kassim Minta, the literature teacher had been in custody since 14 June.
Four publishers of Info-Matin, Le Républicain, Les Echos and Le Scorpion - Sambi Touré, Ibrahima Fall, Alexis Kalambry and Haméye Cissé respectively – published the article in solidarity with their colleague. They were too were arrested and taken to Bamako Central Prison accused of “complicity” to offend the head of state.
The five journalists and the teacher are due to appear before a criminal court in Bamako on 26 June.
The state’s harassment did not cow down Malian journalists either, as newspapers continue to publish the troublesome article. While La Nouvelle République ran the article in its today’s edition, others promised to publish it as well.
Media rights groups have been putting pressures on Bamako court to drop charges against the jailed journalists and a teacher and set them free.
They described the imprisonment as a clear manifestation of abuse of power by Mali’s Public Prosecutor.
"We call on President Amadou Toumani Touré to ensure that the prosecutor throws out this case immediately. It sullies the image of Mali, which is seen in the region as a model of democracy with respect for freedom of expression," said IFJ boss.
"These charges are baseless and appear to be an attempt to intimidate newspapers that do not support the ruling party. The government cannot jail journalists simply because it does not agree with them or doesn't like their articles."
The Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO) expressed disappointment over the behaviour of the Malian authorities because their country “has made tremendous progress for democratisation since popular actions overthrew the despotic regime of Moussa Traoré in 1991. Media freedom in Mali has until now been one of the progressive examples in Africa. The latest developments are on extreme concern to free expression advocates,” NAFEO said.
But the continental media network said it is worried about the wave of arrests and persecutions, which is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and academic freedom of citizens.
NAFEO wondered why Malian authorities would use seditious and criminal legislation in a democratic context in order to silent media and free speech.
The body urged President Amadou Toumani Touré to repeal the “obsolete and archaic criminal law of "offence to the head of state”. It also urged “all human rights organisations to work to forestall the subversion of the democratic and human rights gains in Mali.”
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