A journalist sentenced, two critical voices provisionally released

On March 11, 2024, Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, popularly known as Ras Bath, was sentenced to 18 months in prison, of which nine were suspended.

The columnist and radio host was found guilty of “simulation of an offence” for comments he made about the death of former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga. Ras Bath, who has already spent a year in detention, remains behind bars on additional charges such as “criminal conspiracy” and actions likely to tarnish the State’s reputation.

He was arrested in March 2023, after comments he made regarding the death of former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga. Ras Bath had accused the authorities of refusing to evacuate the former Prime Minister, despite his need for medical care.

Although he was initially acquitted in July 2023 of the charge of “simulation of an offence”, he was convicted and sentenced on appeal to nine months’ imprisonment for bringing the State into disrepute. Repeated requests for his release have all been rejected, citing the persistent charges against him and a still-active committal order.

Crackdown extends beyond journalists

Colonel Alpha Yaya Sangaré of the Malian army, author of a book highlighting army abuses against civilians, was arrested on March 2, 2024. Colonel Sangaré authored a book titled “Mali: Le défi du terrorisme en Afrique” (Mali: The Challenge of Terrorism in Africa), was published in late 2023, exposing alleged army abuses against civilians. This move angered military officials who arrested him after the Ministry of Defense denied the allegation outlined in the book. The case comes against a backdrop of security, political and humanitarian crisis in Mali since 2012.

Arrests of religious leaders further exacerbate concerns

Imam, Bandiougou Traoré, was arrested on January 4, 2024 in Bamako and detained for “incitement to violence” and “undermining public order”. Bandiougou was arrested following a sermon denouncing resource misallocation for a festival in Kayes (city in western Mali), highlighting the deterioration of roads in the region. The imam was released on March 11, 2024 after being sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, of which 16 were suspended, as well as a fine of 500,000 CFA francs.

Similarly, Chouala Bayaya Haïdara was arrested by Malian authorities on December 19, 2023. He was charged with undermining the State’s reputation and public order after publishing a video in which he strongly criticized the prolonged detention of certain public figures, including former minister Bouaré Fily Dabo Sissoko, journalist Ras Bath and influencer Rokia Doumbia (Rose vie chère). Haïdara called on the authorities to solve problems instead of imprisoning dissenting voices, and deplored the persistent power cuts that have affected the Malian population for months. The religious leader was provisionally released on February 29, 2024 for health reasons.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the continued detention of journalist Ras Bath and demands his unconditional release. Although we welcome the release of Imams Bandiougou and Haïdara, we call for all charges against them to be dropped. These incidents raise concerns about freedom of expression in Mali, illustrating the widespread fear of citizens taking a stand.

On February 29, 2024, the President of the Malian Transition, Colonel Assimi Goïta, strongly emphasised the crucial role of press freedom in building a just and equitable society. He recalled that this freedom is an indisputable pillar in Mali, and encouraged media professionals to consider the socio-political context in order to elevate their profession to its true nobility.

To help rebuild peace in Mali, it’s essential for Malians to openly discuss current issues and embrace diverse viewpoints. We urge Malian authorities to uphold their commitments by protecting press freedom and freedom of expression. The MFWA also calls on media to follow ethical journalism standards closely.

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