Yet another critical voice silenced in Mali

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) strongly condemns the arrest and detention of preacher and member of Mali’s High Islamic Council, Chouala Bayaya Haïdara, and calls on the authorities to release him.

Malian authorities have apprehended Chouala Bayaya Haïdara, as confirmed by Dr Adama Coulibaly, the public prosecutor at the Bamako Commune Vl High Court, overseeing cybercrime-related cases. The arrest, carried out on December 19, 2023, by officers of the Brigade d’Enquête Judiciaire (Judicial Investigation Brigade – BIJ) at Haïdara’s residence in Bamako, was followed by a committal order placing him under detention at the Bamako Central Arrest House (MCA).

Haïdara faces charges of “undermining the credibility of the State and remarks tending to disturb public order.” He is slated to remain in custody at MCA until his trial at a later date.

The religious leader’s predicament stemmed from a video posted on social media in which he questioned the political and judicial authorities about what he perceived as an exaggerated and unjustified pre-trial detention of certain public figures. He condemned the prolonged detention of individuals such as former minister Bouaré Fily Dabo Sissoko, journalist Mohamed Youssouf Bathily (Ras Bath), and influencer Rokia Doumbia (Rose vie chère). He urged current leaders to address issues promptly rather than imprisoning those who voice their concerns. The outspoken Haïdara also lamented the persistent power cuts causing distress among the Malian population for months.

The arrest prompted a spontaneous movement of support and protest, with hundreds of followers and sympathizers gathering in front of Haïdara’s house before marching to the BIJ to demand the release of their “guide.” This situation renews concerns about the interpretation of cybercrime laws in Mali and their manipulation by the authorities to muzzle criticism of their stewardship.

The MFWA is concerned by the Malian authorities’ actions to repress dissenting voice and freedom of expression. We call on the government to release Chouala Bayaya Haïdara and uphold the fundamental rights of citizens to freedom of expression and freedom of opinion.

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