French journalist Olivier Dubois is seen in Nioro, Mali, on September 14, 2020. He recently went missing in Mali's Gao region, and was seen in an unverified video saying that he had been kidnapped by a jihadist group. (AFP/Michele Cattani)

CPJ calls for immediate release of kidnapped French journalist Olivier Dubois in Mali

New York, May 7, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed great concern for the safety of French journalist Olivier Dubois, and called on any party holding him in custody to release him immediately and without harm.

“French journalist Olivier Dubois must be released immediately and unharmed, and French and Malian authorities should do everything in their power to hold his captors to account,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Dubois’ abduction is a reminder that journalists covering the Sahel region face an extremely high threat of kidnapping, and work under very dangerous circumstances.”

Dubois went missing in the Malian region of Gao on April 8, while seeking to interview a local leader of the Al-Qaeda affiliated group Jamaa Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), Abdallah Ag Albakaye, according to French daily Liberation, where Dubois often contributed as a freelance reporter. That report stated that the daily denied his pitch for that interview, saying it was too dangerous.

Dubois traveled by plane to Gao to interview Ag Albakaye on April 8, his fixer told Agence France-Presse, saying that the journalist stayed at the Askia Motel and was last seen entering a car with “several men.” Dubois did not have his phone or passport with him, which were later found in the hotel room, that report said.

The fixer, a nurse whom Dubois had known for many years, and whose name was not released, helped to arrange the interview and is currently in Malian police custody in Bamako, the capital, after being questioned by French forces engaged in the anti-jihadist Operation Barkhane, that report said.

Dubois’ absence on his April 10 return flight to Bamako quickly triggered a report from the French embassy, but his disappearance was not immediately disclosed as authorities worked quietly to secure his release, according to The Washington Post.

The journalist’s abduction was made public in a video uploaded to the internet in the evening of May 4 to 5, featuring Dubois sitting in a tent and explaining that he was in JNIM custody. In the 21-second video, which CPJ reviewed, Dubois urged his family, friends, and French authorities to do everything in their power to ensure his release.  

A statement posted on the French government’s website on May 5 confirmed Dubois’ disappearance and said it was in contact with his family as well as with Malian authorities. It added that it was carrying out “the usual technical verifications [of the video].” France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into the kidnapping, news reports said.

The video was uploaded by Wareeth al-Qassam, a pro-Al-Qaeda media outlet, which did not itself claim to have kidnapped the journalist, news reports said. The date the video was recorded, its location, and the circumstances under which it was made have not been verified, according to news reports

The journalist, who was born in Martinique, recently worked as a correspondent for Liberation and the magazines Le Point and Jeune Afrique, and previously worked for Journal du Mali, a local Malian newspaper, according to media reports. An unnamed source familiar with Dubois’ work described him to the International Federation of Journalists as “one of the most connected and well-established journalists in the region. It was his last year before returning to France and he had decided to devote himself to field reports.”

In late April, Spanish journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile were killed in the neighboring country of Burkina Faso, after they were abducted by a jihadist group while filming a documentary, as CPJ documented at the time.

Previously, in November 2013, journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon with the French government-funded broadcaster Radio France Internationale, were abducted and killed after they interviewed a separatist leader in Mali.

In a 2020 report, the BBC described Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania as “a frontline in the war against Islamist militancy for almost a decade.”

CPJ called the number listed on the website of Mali’s prime minister for comment, but the calls did not go through. CPJ messaged the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection through its official website, but did not immediately receive any reply.

CPJ called Mohamed Salia Touré, a government spokesperson, but the call was disconnected due to a poor connection. Reached again via messaging app, Touré referred CPJ to Hamadoun Touré, Mali’s minister of communication, and provided a phone number. CPJ’s calls to that number did not connect.

Editor’s note: The 15th paragraph has been updated with a response from Mohamed Salia Touré.