At least 11 people killed in anti-government protests following legislative elections

A woman stands at a polling booth before casting her vote inside a polling station during a run-off presidential election in Bamako, 2018. REUTERS/Luc Gnago via Gallo Images

Political crisis following contested legislative elections

Malians cast their vote to elect the 147 members of the National Assembly, with a first round on 29th March 2020 and a second run-off round on 19th April 2020 despite fears stemming from the spread of COVID-19 and security concerns stemming from attacks from insurgent armed groups.

The legislative elections were originally due to be held after the presidential elections on 29th July 2018, which saw president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta reelected, but were postponed several times out of security concerns. The voter turn-out was low, at 35.58% in the first round on 29th March, and 35.25% in the second round on 19th April 2020, according to official results. There were reports of attacks and threats by armed groups, intimidation and allegations of vote buying. Opposition leader Soumaila Cissé of the Union pour la République et la Démocratie was abducted, along with members of his campaign team, on 25th March 2020, just a few days before the first round of legislative elections, by insurgent armed groups while he was campaigning in central Mali. 

The announcement of the official results by the Constitutional Court on 30th March 2020, which saw an additional 10 seats allocated to the ruling party Rassemblement pour le Mali (RPM) compared with the provisional results, sparked protests throughout the country, despite the curfew and the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people as part of measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Protests reportedly took place in Bamako, Sikasso, Kati, Kayes and Sévaré. 

coalition was formed, later named Mouvement du 5 juin - Rassemblement pour le Mali (M5-RPM), consisting of political opposition, religious actors such as the affluent imam Mahmoud Dicko and some civil society actors, whose initial demands included the dissolution of the National Assembly, the formation of a transitional government of unity, the dismissal of the Prime Minister and the replacement of the nine judges of the Constitutional Court. Later demands also included the stepping down of president Boubacar Keïta. Anti-government protests took place on 5th June, 19th June and 10th July 2020. While the first two protests took place without reported incidents, at least 11 people were killed in protests from 10th to 12th July 2020 (see under Peaceful Assembly) amid restrictions to social media access. 

Meanwhile, a delegation of the regional bloc ECOWAS, led by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, visited Mali to try to mediate in the political crisis, without any results. The M5 coalition expressed its disagreement with the proposed ECOWAS plan to resolve the political crisis and called for a continuation of their 'campaign of civil disobedience'. 

Peaceful Assembly

Anti-government protests turn deadly: at least 11 people killed

Several anti-government protests, led by the M5-RFP, took place in Mali in June and July 2020 following the disputed and contested elections for the National Assembly. Protesters have demanded that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta steps down. Underlying grievances include the failure of the government to respond to insecurity, both due to attacks by Islamist insurgent groups and inter-communal violence, its failure to stop the violence in the country, corruption and dire economic conditions. 

Between 10th and 12th July 2020, at least 11 people died and at least 80 people were injured in anti-government protests in Bamako that turned into violence and clashes with security forces. Protesters reportedly attacked and occupied the National Assembly, the national broadcaster Office de radio et télédiffusion du Mali (ORTM) and the headquarters of the ruling party Rassemblement pour le Mali (RPM), threw projectiles and erected barricades throughout the city. Security forces used tear gas and fired shots to disperse the protesters, according to news reports. An estimated 20 people were briefly detained, according to news reports. Police officers arrested M5-RFP members Issa Kaou Djim and Clément Dembélé on 10th July 2020, while Choguel Kokala Maïga and Mountaga Tall were detained the following day at the headquarters of the M5 coalition in Bamako. The members were released on 13th July 2020. According to news reports, members of the special anti-terrorist force (FORSAT, Force spéciale antiterroriste) might have been deployed in the protests of 10th July and the following days. 

Authorities' response to the protests was heavily criticised by international and regional actors, such as the UN mission in Mali, the African Union, the regional body ECOWAS and the EU, who condemned in a joint statement "the use of lethal force in the context of maintaining public order" and have invited "all stakeholders to exercise restraint". They also condemned the vandalism by protesters during the weekend of protests. 

Previous protests by M5-RFP on 5th June 2020 and 19th June 2020 in Bamako, gathering thousands, occurred without incidents. The protest on 5th June 2020 was reportedly authorised by local authorities, and gave the name to M5-RFP ('Movement of 5th June'). A counter protest, to demonstrate its support to president Keïta, was planned for 27th June 2020, but was later postponed.

Protest to demand the liberation of opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé

On 2nd July 2020, hundreds of members and supporters of opposition party Union pour la République et la Démocratie (URD) gathered in Bamako to demand the liberation of the party's leader Soumaïla Cissé, 100 days after he was abducted by armed groups while campaigning in central Mali. 

Previously, a sit-in took place in Bamako on 4th June 2020, organised by Plateforme des femmes leaders (Platform of Women Leaders) to demand the release of the political opposition leader. 


Access to social media restricted

Access to social media messaging was partially disrupted amid the mass protests that started on 10th July 2020. According to the network data from the internet observatory NetBlocks, the restrictions affected most but not all users, and occurred through several providers. The restrictions continued until 14th July 2020. 

Press freedom violations during the anti-government protests

Besides the restrictions to the access to social media (see above), other press violations took place during the protests from 10th to 12th July 2020 (see under Peaceful Assembly). According to press freedom organisation Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), several journalists were physically attacked or briefly detained and the offices of the national broadcaster was attacked and looted. 

Protesters attacked an vandalised the headquarter of the national broadcaster Office de radio et télédiffusion du Mali (ORTM) in Bozola, Bamako, and looted some of the broadcaster's equipment, leading to the broadcaster to stop its emissions until 11th July midday. Additionally, two vehicles belonging to journalists were set on fire, said MFWA. 

Several journalists were physically attacked while reporting or were briefly detained. Police officers briefly detained journalist Hawa Kamissoko of the Liberté TV Group on 10th July 2020 and was reportedly released the next day. Mamadou Cissé of the Horon Group told MFWA he was also briefly held by police officers. Other journalists were subject to physical attacks, such as correspondent Moussa Koné who said he was beaten with batons, or were robbed of equipment and personal belongings. Media organisation Groupe Ernergie said that two of its journalists' camera's, wallets and camera's were stolen.