The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed by the continued imprisonment of three journalists working for privately owned Sido radio station. According to local sources, police in Ségou, a city in southern Mali, arrested program host Chériff Haïdara; radio director Mamoutou Traoré; and reporter and program host Gata Ba on October 20, 24, and 26, respectively.
In early October, the station aired a report criticizing a court ruling made in Ségou against a nearby village association that had been in dispute with a local bank. The court ruled that livestock should be confiscated from villagers to settle the association's debt to the bank. The radio broadcast interviews with angry villagers, who criticized debt-collectors for confiscating the animals.
On October 14, after the report aired, several debt-collectors entered the radio station and confiscated broadcasting equipment, a computer, cassette decks, and mixers, among other materials, said local sources. With the help of Moussa Kéita, the president of Mali's High Council on Communications, the equipment was returned the same day. According to Kéita, the debt-collectors' confiscation of the equipment was in reprisal for the station's reporting.
The debt-collectors then accused the journalists of criminal defamation, leading to their subsequent arrest, the sources said. At a hearing yesterday, the journalists were refused bail. Their next hearing is scheduled for November 18.
The imprisonment of these journalists is an alarming development in a country that is considered a press freedom model in Africa. It also marks the first time that journalists have been imprisoned in Mali for their work since Your Excellency took office in 2002.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns the incarceration of Chériff Haïdara, Mamoutou Traoré and Gata Ba, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
We urge Your Excellency to do everything within your power to see that Malian journalists can practice their profession freely, without fear of criminal punishment.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.
Ann K. Cooper