Journalists handed suspended prison sentences over critical story

New York, March 12, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned criminal defamation convictions handed down last week by a court in the capital, Bamako, against two journalists for a December 2006 story critical of a government minister.

Director Diaby Makoro Camara and Editor Oumar Bouaré of the private monthly Kabako were sentenced to four-month suspended terms, fined 50,000 CFA francs (US$100), and ordered to publish the court decision, defense lawyer Amadou Tiéoulé Diarra told CPJ. They plan an appeal, he said.

The charges stemmed from a defamation suit brought by Planning and Land Development Minister Marimantia Diarra over a story headlined, “Consumed by jealousy: Marimantia Diarra raids his ex-fiancé with the police,” Bouaré told CPJ. The article described Diarra’s alleged attempt to stop the wedding of a young woman, promised to him in marriage, to another man, according to CPJ research. Diarra’s lawyers’s said the story’s “insinuations” were baseless.

“Sending journalists to jail for their reporting is out of step with Mali’s democratic values,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the appeal court to overturn the convictions of Diaby Makoro Camara and Oumar Bouaré, and we urge authorities to abandon criminal defamation prosecutions.”

The defense presented several witnesses at trial to back the story’s assertions. CPJ sources said the ruling was politically motivated due to the influence of Diarra, secretary-general of the former ruling party ADEMA and an ally of President Amadou Toumani Touré. A date for the appeal hearing had not yet been set.