Mali: pro-junta activist jailed for criticizing junta

The Malian authorities should release activist Adama Diarra and drop all charges against him, while upholding the rights of citizens to express divergent opinions in line with Mali’s obligations under various international instruments on free expression.

On September 14, 2023, a specialized cybercrime court handed a two-year prison sentence to Malian activist Adama Diarra, with one year of the sentence being unsuspended. Diarra, also known as “Ben le Cerveau” (Ben the Brain), was convicted of “undermining the reputation of the State.” Diarra’s legal team said that they would appeal the decision.

The charges against Diarra stem from his criticism of the transitional government. In a WhatsApp, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) post, the activist had criticized the junta’s management of the State and the serial arrests of opponents by the security services.

He had also called on the military junta to respect the scheduled transition period and hand over power to civilians in March 2024, in accordance with the commitment made to ECOWAS. Following this call, he was taken into custody on September 4, 2023.

Adama Diarra is an unlikely victim of the military authorities. As the leader of the pressure group Yerewolo association, he had previously organized demonstrations against the presence of French troops and the UN mission MINUSMA, two institutions in Mali. Interestingly, the junta had also opposed these two entities. He also campaigned for greater cooperation with Russia to meet Mali’s security challenges, a position that should resonate with the pro-Russia junta.

However, the activist’s demand for accountability from the junta in respect of the quality of governance and a commitment to the deadline for a return to civilian rule, did amuse the junta.

The conviction of Diarra is the second in less than two months, underscoring the high risk associated with criticizing the junta. On August 2, 2023, the Court of Commune IV in the Malian capital, Bamako, sentenced the activist and social media influencer, Rokia Doumbia, also known as “Madame vie chère”, to one year in prison. She had simply spoken out about the security situation and the cost of living in the country in a live TikTok broadcast.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns the arrest and conviction of Adama Diarra. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Diarra and call on the Malian authorities to uphold fundamental freedoms. This repression could have a dissuasive effect on frees expression and opinion in Mali which has an obligation to uphold these rights under various international treaties to which it is signatory.

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