In Mali, high school essay assignment lands journalist in prison

New York, June 15, 2007— A state prosecutor in Mali jailed a journalist for an article about a high school essay assignment in which the students were asked to write about a fictional sex scandal involving a president and his mistress.

Seydina Oumar Diarra, an editor for the private daily newspaper Info-Matin, was questioned for more than three hours, charged with offense to a head of state, and taken to the central prison in the capital of Bamako on Wednesday in connection with a June 1 article, editor-in-chief Sékouba Samaké told CPJ. The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of up to 600,000 CFA francs (US$1,200). The teacher was jailed on the same charges.

“This situation is so outrageous that it would be laughable if two people were not in jail,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We call on the authorities to immediately drop these charges and release both Diarra and the teacher from prison.”

In the article Diarra interviewed the teacher and students in the 10th-grade class, and noted that the essay topic could alarm some parents. The teacher told Diarra he assigned the essay in order to make his students explore moral issues.

The trial was scheduled for June 26, defense lawyer Bréhima Kanté told CPJ. Diarra was the first journalist imprisoned in Mali since 2003.