Malian authorities suspend political party activities, censor media

The military authorities in Mali have banned the media from covering the activities of political parties and all activities of political nature in the continuing squeeze on the county’s civic space.

The Minister of State and Government Spokesman, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga, announced the decision taken by the governing council to suspend all activities of political parties and citizens’ associations in Mali. He explained that the decision titled Decree no. 0230 of April 10, 2024, was a measure to ensure public order and a climate of serenity ahead of the Inter-Malian Dialogue for Peace and National Reconciliation.

A day after the ban on political activities, the Malian media regulator, la Haute Autorité de la Communication (HAC) added to the restriction by instructing the media to avoid covering the activities of political parties.

In a statement issued on April 11, 2024, the HAC urged “all media (radio, TV, print and online newspapers) to stop all broadcasting and publication of political party activities and activities of a political nature by associations.”

Rejection, outrage and condemnation

The latest move by the Malian authorities to close the civic space has prompted widespread concern at home and abroad. Political parties and civil society groups in Mali have rejected the authorities’ decisions to ban political activities. Some of Mali’s main political parties and civil society groups called on authorities to set up an institutional framework for polls as soon as possible.

The call by the media regulator has been rejected by actors in the media sector. In a statement dated April 11, 2024, Maison de la Presse, the umbrella body of media organisations and journalists in Mali, called on “the press in Mali as a whole not to submit to the injunctions of the HAC and invites its media to remain upright, united and mobilised to defend citizen’s right to information”. The statement from the Maison de la Press followed a meeting of all its constituents at its headquarters in Bamako.

While the media regulator has pandered to the junta’s whim, the National Human Rights Commission (Commission Nationale des Droits de l’Homme – CNDH) has dared express disapproval.

“These restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms, rather than calming the social climate, represent potential factors for unrest and tension, which the country does not need,” said Aguibou Bouare, chairman of CNDH.

Mr. Bouare said his outfit is exercising its responsibilities under Article 5 of the CNDH Law n°2016-036 of July 7, 2016, to “give opinions or make recommendations to the attention of the government or any competent authority on all matters relating to human rights.”

Mali has been ruled by juntas since consecutive coups in 2020 and 2021. The country has since been battling with a worsening security situation compounded by a humanitarian and political crisis. In June 2022, the junta said presidential elections would be held in February 2023 and power transferred back to civilians on March 26. However, the expected elections were postponed and the junta gave no further indication as to its intentions.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the decision of the Malian authorities to suspend all political party activities and media coverage on them, and calls for the reversal of the decision. Political activities are essential to ensuring representation and participation in democracy. It is hard to imagine an inclusive and reconciliatory dialogue in a climate of repression of fundamental rights, such as the rights to free expression, opinion, association and information.

The MFWA is convinced that this suspension of political activities and the HAC injunction will create an information deficit and leave the public out of the democratic debate. We therefore urge the authorities to preserve fundamental freedoms as they strive to promote inclusive and constructive dialogue. Likewise, we invite the public and the press to ensure that public discourse, even in its diversity, is constructive.

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