24 May 2012

Alert

Three weeks of media freedom violations


Incident details

Missing

Babi Ahbi, Editor

Arrest, Questioning, Release

Birama Fall, Editor
Saouti Haïdara, Editor

Attack

Radio Kayira, Radio station

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(RSF/IFEX) - 23 May 2012 - Amid continuing political instability following a rebel takeover in the north and a military coup in the capital in March, Reporters Without Borders has compiled the following summary of media freedom violations in Mali during the past three weeks.

“Chaos has reigned in the north since March, but the persistence of media freedom violations in the south, especially the capital, Bamako, is intolerable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It shows that the 22 March coup has overturned Mali's status as a regional model of respect for freedom of information. The authorities can no longer be counted on to let the media operate freely. The list of violations of journalists' rights keeps on growing.”

Journalist's unexplained disappearance

Babi Ahbi, the editor of the Bamako-based periodical Agora, has been missing since 12 May. His family, friends and colleagues are all very concerned by his sudden disappearance at a time of threats to media personnel. No one has so far ventured any theory to explain how he vanished.

“The police must shed light on this journalist's disturbing disappearance and they must not rule out the possibility that it is linked to his work,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Whether he has been kidnapped, imprisoned or killed, his family and colleagues have a right to know the facts."

Some sources told Reporters Without Borders that Ahbi supported “the people in the north of Mali,” where an armed group has proclaimed a breakaway state.

Intelligence officers after journalists' sources

State Security officers arrested Birama Fall, the editor of the bi-weekly Le Prétoire, at his newspaper at around midday on 12 May, and questioned him at State Security headquarters for four hours before letting him go.

They interrogated him about a phone conversation with a former government minister who had told him that the bodies of many “Red Beret” participants in a failed counter-coup on 30 April were buried in a mass grave in Diago, a few kilometres outside Bamako. The former minister gave Fall its alleged location but Fall had refused to publish the information because he could not confirm it.

Saouti Haïdara, the editor of the privately-owned daily L'Indépendant, was briefly arrested by three State Security officers on 16 May and was given the same treatment as his colleague from Le Prétoire.

Haïdara was interrogated about a “leaflet-style” article he had published the previous week advising Malians to stay at home or to avoid public and military buildings because of the threat of bombings or armed attacks by “a certain Captain Touré.” The intelligence officers wanted to know who his source was.

“These two arrests show that phones are being tapped, which is a serious violation of journalists' rights,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Illegal phone tapping combined with interrogation endangers journalists and their sources and can seriously impact the media's ability to provide the public with news and information.”

Attack on radio station

Members of the Association of Malian Pupils and Students (AEEM) attacked Radio Kayira in the central city of Koutiala on 30 April, damaging its premises and stealing equipment but failing in a bid to set it on fire because the police intervened. The station's owner, parliamentarian Oumar Mariko, put the losses at 3.2 million euros.

The students carried out the attack because they suspect that Mariko was behind an attempt to murder AEEM leader Hamadoun Traoré on the night of 22 April, and they are still threatening to attack the Radio Kayira branches in Bamako and Niolo.

“Without getting into political disputes, we urge the two parties to open a dialogue so that media premises can be spared this kind of violence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “At this time of political unrest, it is vital that the media should be able to do their job of reporting the news in a professional and impartial manner.”

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