Geneva, Switzerland – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized Mali’s decision to ban French media and called on its military rulers to reverse its decision.
“We are deeply alarmed by the decision of the media regulator in Mali to permanently suspend Radio France International [RFI] “And France24,” a spokeswoman for the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said on Friday.
“These suspensions are the latest in a series of measures limiting press and freedom of expression in Mali, and come at a time when they need more scrutiny, not less.”
Mali’s military leaders first imposed the suspension on March 16, accusing broadcasters of broadcasting false allegations about reports of human rights abuses by the military.
And the Supreme Communications Authority announced, on Wednesday, that the temporary suspension will be final.
Journalists’ associations denounced the increase in attacks and defamation campaigns against journalists over the past year, particularly against representatives of the French media. Foreign and local correspondents covering Mali have denounced the deteriorating media climate in the country.
“We’ve never had this kind of scrutiny before,” said an independent reporter contributing to French media, who asked not to be named for security reasons. The situation has only worsened since tensions between France and Mali began to escalate. It is a political issue.”
‘widespread frightening effect’
On Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists also called on the authorities to reverse their decision to ban RFI and France 24.
“The financial authorities’ decision to tighten these suspensions indicates their commitment to denying people in their country access to information,” Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, said in a statement.
On February 6, French journalist Benjamin Roger, a reporter on assignment for Jeune Afrique, was arrested and expelled within 24 hours of his arrival in the Malian capital, Bamako. Authorities said the reporter did not have press credentials. A week ago, they announced that it would be difficult for media representatives to obtain a media permit.
“Press accreditation is rarely required to date, and the lack of it has not prevented journalists from working freely,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
On April 8, Reporters Without Borders marked the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of French journalist Olivier Dubois, correspondent for French publications Liberation, Le Point and Jean Afrique. On March 14, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusrat al-Islam and Muslims Group, a coalition of armed groups, released a video showing that he was still alive.
French aid worker Sophie Petronin was kidnapped in Gao in 2016 and released four years later. In 2013, gunmen kidnapped and killed Jesselin Dupont and Claude Verlon, two RFI journalists, in the Malian town of Kidal when they ended an interview with a Tuareg separatist leader.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has decried how such a situation is pushing those reporters still inside the country to practice self-censorship.
“The current climate is one that has a chilling effect on journalists and bloggers,” UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters on Friday.
“Our office continues to document serious allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in many parts of the country, and we remain deeply concerned about steps to reduce already limited civilian space.”
Tensions have been rising between Mali and France since the military coup led by Colonel Asmi Guetta on 8 August 2020, which overthrew elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who was backed by France.
In June 2021, France, the former colonial power in the region, halted its joint military operations with Malian forces pending guarantees of the return of civilians to positions of power.
French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that he will begin withdrawing troops, about 5,100 soldiers, stationed in the region since 2013 under the so-called Operation Barkhane, which includes five countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
In response to the military’s seizure of power in Mali, the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union suspended Mali from their organizations and threatened sanctions.
In January, Malian Prime Minister Chogoel Kokala Maiga accused France of promoting insecurity and division in the country and expelled its ambassador.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Mali ranks 99th out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”