- Three radio journalists have been arrested in Mali, charged with "defamation and insults" after airing a report over a village dispute. Press associations are concerned about the arrests, as Mali has been noted for its dedication to press freedom during the last years.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today in a protest letter to Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré said it was "disturbed by the continued imprisonment of three journalists working for the privately owned 'Sido' radio station." Also the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) protests the arrests.
According to local sources, police in Ségou, a city in southern Mali, arrested program host Chériff Haïdara; radio director Mamoutou Traoré; and reporter and program host Gata Ba on 20, 24, and 26 October respectively.
In early October, the station had aired a report criticising a court ruling made in Ségou against a nearby village association that had been in dispute with a local bank.
The Ségou court had ruled that livestock should be confiscated from villagers to settle the association's debt to the bank. The radio broadcast interviews with angry villagers, who strongly criticised debt-collectors for confiscating the animals.
On 14 October, after the report had been aired, several debt-collectors entered the radio station and confiscated broadcasting equipment, a computer, cassette decks, and mixers, among other materials, said local sources.
With the help of Moussa Kéita, the President of Mali's High Council on Communications, the equipment was however returned the same day. According to Mr Kéita, the debt-collectors' confiscation of the equipment had been in reprisal for the station's reporting.
The debt-collectors then accused the journalists of criminal defamation, leading to their subsequent arrest, the sources said. At a hearing yesterday, the journalists were refused bail. Their next hearing is scheduled for 18 November.
Both CPJ and RSF, two of the world's leading media watchdogs, today strongly condemned the imprisonment of these journalists. CPJ's Executive Director, Ann Cooper, said the incident was "an alarming development in a country that is considered a press freedom model in Africa."
- Mali has one of the best press freedom records in Africa, with no major violations recorded for several years, added RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "The three reporters were simply doing their job and we call on the authorities to release them at once and drop the charges against them."
In its letter to President Touré, the CPJ's Ms Cooper recalled that this also marked "the first time that journalists have been imprisoned in Mali for their work" since Mr Touré took office in 2002. Ms Cooper urged the Malian President "to do everything within your power to see that Malian journalists can practice their profession freely, without fear of criminal punishment."
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