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In Mali, masked gunmen seize, assault publisher

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Assailants target newspaper publisher Saouti Labass Haïdara. (Le Challenger)

Abuja, Nigeria, July 13, 2012--Armed, masked assailants abducted and beat a veteran journalist in Mali on Thursday, leaving him with a broken hand and other injuries, according to news reports and local journalists. 

Eight gunmen stormed the offices of L'Indépendant newspaper in the capital, Bamako, at about 9 p.m., firing in the air to disperse staff and bystanders, and then seizing publisher Saouti Labass Haïdara and taking him away in a 4-by-4 vehicle, news reports said. Haïdara, dumped by a roadside four hours later, was treated at a hospital in Bamako, local journalists said. Oussouf Camara, a reporter with L'Indépendant, told CPJ that Haïdara suffered head injuries in addition to a broken hand.

Local journalists told CPJ they believe the attack came in reprisal for articles critical of the government. "We have published stories on the government. I believe his assault is linked to our Tuesday July 10 publication, which was on the situation in the North of Mali," Camara said. The issue carried a piece that criticized the government's response to separatist Tuaregs who have declared an independent state in northern Mali, according to local journalists.

"We condemn this brutal attack on Saouti Labass Haïdara and are deeply concerned that it comes in retaliation for L'Indépendant's critical reporting," CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said from New York. "With journalists in Mali working in extremely insecure conditions, authorities must act now to apprehend the perpetrators in this attack and to take urgent steps to ensure the safety of all journalists." 

Hamadoun Touré, Mali's communications minister and government spokesman, told CPJ the government is investigating the assault on Haïdara as well as past attacks on other journalists. "We have not made any arrests as we have not been able to identify these armed men because they are masked. But the government is investigating," Touré said.

The attack on Haïdara comes just two months after state security agents pretending to be printers entered the publisher's office and took him to the agency's headquarters, according to news reports. Security agents interrogated him about an article describing a political leaflet that was critical of coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the reports said. Since the country's March 22 coup, journalists have been subjected to increasing instances of harassment and assault, CPJ research shows.

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