Media freedoms violations surrounding Mali's presidential elections

In the past months, civic space violations took place in the context of the presidential elections. Malians headed to the polls on 29th July 2018 to elect the country's president, amid security concerns. After a run-off between incumbent president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and opposition Soumaila Cissé, on 12th August 2018, Keïta was re-elected for another five years in office, after the Constitutional Court declared him as the winner with 67.16 percent of the votes. The election results were disputed and challenged by opposition leader Soumaila Cissé. The claims of electoral fraud spurred protests by opposition (see peaceful assembly section). 

Expression

Internet and social media blackouts

According to the CSO Internet without Borders, there has been an "escalation of the method of censorship of the Malian internet" surrounding the presidential elections, with technical restrictions to prevent the use of VPNs and social networks on the eve of the presidential run-off elections on 15th August 2018. They were preceded by a restricted access to the main social networks by provider Orange Mali. Julie Owono of Internet without Borders said

"In Mali, access to information, and in particular the Internet during an election period, is an important criterion for assessing the transparency, credibility and sincerity of the vote. This is the first time in its history that Mali cuts itself completely off the Internet. We regret that Mali chooses not to respect international law that protects freedom of expression. It is an important civil right during an election period."

Closure of radio station Renouveau FM

On the instruction of the governor of the district of Bamako, Abdoul Karim Traoré, radio station Renouveau FM was closed down on 2nd August 2018 on grounds of incitement to revolt and hate. The governor explained his decision by saying the closure aimed at "preserving public order and tranquility in the district of Bamako". The closure relates to comments made by Youssouf Mohamed Bathily, better known as Ras Bath, during the programme Carte sur Table on the night of 31st July to 1st August 2018. According to VOA, Ras Bath denounced "jams of ballot boxes" and the incapacity of the State to ensure the security on part of the territory. Ras Bath is an opposition activist and frequently comments on corruption in Mali. As reported previously on the Monitor, Ras Bath was sentenced in absentia to 12 months in prison on 26th July 2017, on charges of "incitement of disobedience of troops" in the same radio programme. 

Local press organisations, such as the Forum Africain des Editeurs de Presse (African Forum of Press Editors) and APPEL-Mali (Association des professionnels de presse en ligne du Mali - Association of online press professionals) among others, have condemned this decision. Reporters without Borders pointed out that the governor has, according to law, no authority to close media outlets. Only the media regulator Haute Authorité de Communication (High Authority for Communication) can rule whether there has been a breach in terms of journalist ethics and content. The Minister of Territorial Administration can also suspend an outlet, but only on the grounds of "threats to the interests of national defence or national unity", and with HAC's consent, under the 2012 Law on Commercial Broadcast Media. 

Through a decision on 11th August 2018, the HAC authorised Renouveau FM to broadcast again, but without the radio programme 'Carte sur table'. According to CPJ, who spoke with one of the members of the media regulator, the cancellation of the programme was due to a violation of the code of good conduct for media during elections. 

Journalists interrogated

Three journalists of French TV channel TV5 were briefly detained and interrogated when they arrived in Bamako to cover the elections. Ousmane Ndiaye, Christophe Harnoy and François Coquet were approached by plain clothes police agents in front of the airport, and were subsequently interrogated for an hour and a half, before being released. The three were part of a crew of five journalists. 

Several journalists physically attacked during protests

Several journalists were attacked, beaten with batons, sprayed by tear gas and chased during the repressed protests on 2nd June 2018 (see under Peaceful Assembly), said Maison de la Presse (House of the Press) in a statement on 4th June 2018. Some of the journalists affected were from the media outlets Radio Nassiraoulé, Sikka TV, Africa 24, Kunnafoni TV, Renouveau TV, RFI Mandenkan, and Horon TV, among others. 

Peaceful Assembly

In the run-up to the elections, and following the announcement of the re-election of incumbent president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, several protests have occurred, with some of them violently dispersed. 

On 2nd June 2018, security forces dispersed an opposition protest in Mali's capital Bamako, using tear gas and batons, injuring several people. The protest, to demand transparent elections and equal access to the public broadcaster ORTM for opposition parties, was banned by the governor of Bamako on grounds of the state of emergency still being in place in the country. The protest went ahead anyway. According to the opposition, at least 16 people were injured during the protest. 

On 18th August 2018, supporters of opposition Soumaïla Cissé protested against the election results, which the protesters say was fraudulent. Several thousand people, holding placards such as "no to the declared results" and "IBK (Ibrahim Boubacar Keita) will not steal our victory", gathered in Bamako. Authorities initially banned but later authorised the protest. 

On 21st September 2018, on the eve of the country's 58th independence and the inauguration of president Keïta, security forces dispersed an opposition protest in Bamako, using tear gas to quell clashes between protesters and security forces. The protest was banned by authorities, and 11 people were arrested, including opposition members, according to Jeune Afrique