Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crackdown on the press in Mali

Mali, formerly a French colony between 1880 and 1960, is located in western Africa. It is approximately the same size as South Africa and is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 1992, Mali held its first democratic, multi-party presidential election. Alpha Oumar Konaré was elected and re-elected in 1997. In 2002, he was succeeded by Amadou Toumani Touré, a retired General, who was re-elected to a second term just months ago. Mali is considered one of Africa’s most politically and socially stable countries.

However, when a high school teacher asked his class to write a humorous essay about the mistress of a fictional African leader, he was arrested as well as the journalist who reported the story. Then other journalists and editors were arrested who reprinted the original story.

The international press organization Reporters Without Borders urged their release and stated, “Mali was hailed as an example of democracy in Africa, but as this case goes from bad to worse, it is looking more and more like an authoritarian regime, crippled by taboos and dangerous for those who show lack of respect for an untouchable president.”

According to the BBC, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) urged African countries to scrap their laws on insulting leaders at a congress in South Africa. Such laws are in force in 48 out of 53 African countries.

This from the BBC:
Five journalists and a teacher have been found guilty of insulting Mali's president over a school essay.

All were given suspended jail terms at a closed door trial in the capital.

Teacher Bassirou Kassim Minta asked his final-year secondary school class to write a humorous essay about the mistress of a fictional African leader.

He was arrested, along with a journalist who wrote about the task. The arrests have been condemned by press freedom organisations.

The BBC's Salif Sanogo in Bamako says that about 300 people turned up for the trial before being told they were barred.

He says that security was outside around the court.

Defence lawyers boycotted the proceedings.

"We want to show by our absence that the freedom of the press is being violated in Mali," defence lawyer Mamadou Gakou told the AFP news agency.

Journalist Seydina Oumar Diarra wrote an article, called The Mistress of the President of the Republic, in the Info-Matin newspaper about the essay.

Police then arrested him and Mr Minta.

They were given suspended sentences of eight months each.

Following the detentions, the article was reprinted in other newspapers, leading to the arrest of four more journalists and editors.

They were given suspended three month sentences as accomplices.

After the trial, all six were taken back to prison to carry out the formalities before being freed.

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