- At a closed door trial in the capital Bamako, the five Malian journalists and a school teacher have been slammed suspended jail terms over a secondary school essay.
The accused writers have been found guilty by the Bamako court of insulting or conspiring to insult the Malian President, Ahmed Toumani Toure. They filed an appeal against the verdict.
Security forces sealed the court premises and barred hundreds of people from witnessing the trial, saying a “sex case” is held in camera.
In protest against a crackdown on free press, the defence lawyers boycotted the court proceedings.
Seydina Oumar Diarra, who wrote an article on the Info-Matin criticising the teacher for assigning students to write an essay about the mistress of a fictional President, was arrested alongside the teacher.
Four other editors of Info-Matin, Le Républicain, Les Echos and Le Scorpion - Sambi Touré, Ibrahima Fall, Alexis Kalambry and Hamčye Cissé, respectively, had been incarcerated in Bamako Central Prisons for reprinting the article.
But the journalists said their action was done to defend press and academic freedom as well as demonstrate solidarity with their detained colleague.
The Info-Matin editor slammed an eight-month suspended sentence while the three other editors were each given three-month suspended sentences.
Mr Diarra was sentenced to serve 13 days in prison – exactly the number of days he had spent in pre-trial detention. The secondary school, Bassirou Kassim Minta, was given two months sentence, fined US $212 and banned from teaching.
The five other defendants were each fined US $424. Except Minta, all the six were escorted back to prison for formalities before they are freed.
Media rights watch described the development as an abuse of authority by the government of a country seen as a model of democracy in Africa.
The judgment came less than a month after the World Association of Newspapers passed a declaration in its 60th Congress in South Africa, urging African countries to scrap insult laws. Enforced in 48 out of 53 countries in the continent, insult laws are described as the greatest scourge of press freedom in Africa.
Besides, The African Editor’s Forum is mounting an aggressive campaign around insult laws in Africa.
“The outcome of this trial was extremely disappointing, even if it resulted in the immediate release of all the journalists,” Reporteurs Sans Frontieres said. “The court saw fit to punish a crime of lese-majesté worthy of another age, while at the same time finding an apparent solution to the crisis.”
“This case has damaged relations between the government and media, and has rendered a disservice to press freedom activists by setting a sad example to authoritarian governments, which will able to argue that even democracies impose jail terms on journalists who supposedly attack the president.”
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