Three journalists arrested in Mali on dubious allegations then later released

Expression

On 21st February, police arrested three journalists - Salif Diarrah, Aliou Hasseye and Issa Coulibaly -  from the online news portal Maliactu.net on accusations of trying to extort a municipal authority. The officers also confiscated some of their materials. The arrests are reportedly connected to a complaint from the mayor of Koumaniana, who has allegedly been the target of blackmail involving a compromising video. The blackmailers allegedly demanded the payment of three million francs CFA (approximately 5,600 USD) to a beneficiary in Benin, with the perpetrators using the contact details of Maliactu.net. According to a statement from the news site, the police officers, who were armed and not in official uniform, arrested the three without an arrest warrant, as well as confiscated computers, telephones, and microphones, among other items. The news portal has declared the journalists' innocence and asserted that the contact details for the site, including its logos, are publicly available and on Facebook and Twitter accounts; therefore, they could be used by anyone. In addition, online tools, such as 'spoof caller id', allows criminals to misuse telephone numbers. 

Association des Professionnels de la Presse En Ligne (Association of Online Press Professionals) has expressed its concern over the journalists arrests and Maison de la presse (House of the Press) has condemned the police action and demanded the unconditional release of the three journalists. 

On 23rd February, the Court of First Instance of Commune III in Bamako released Aliou Hasseye and Issa Coulibaly without charge, and 72 hours later, the Court also released Salif Diarrahof but he could still be called in for questioning at a later time. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 12th January, security forces used tear gas to disperse a sit-in with several hundred women in front of the National Assembly. There were reports of several injuries and the confiscation of telephones. Women's groups such as Collectif des femmes des licenciés de l’Huicoma, as well as the movement "On a tout compris” and Collectif des Amazones du Mali, had organised the sit-in to protest domestic violence and demand that the government do more to protect women and prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence. A series of cases of violence against women preceded the sit-in, including the murder of Fanta Sékou Fofana, secretary for the Presidency of the Republic, by her spouse in December 2017. 

During a press conference on 16th January, Collectif des Amazones denounced the use of excessive force during the protest, declaring it a violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. The group demanded justice and that the perpetrators of the violence be held accountable.

Two days prior to the sit-in, police had dispersed another protest in Bamako over the presence of French military forces in Mali, as was reported previously on the Monitor