New York, February 11, 2022 — Malian authorities should ensure that bureaucratic obstacles do not prevent international journalists from entering the country and covering it freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Monday, February 7, police officers in the capital, Bamako, arrested French national Benjamin Roger, a reporter at the privately owned news outlet Jeune Afrique, who had arrived in the country hours earlier on a flight from France, according to news reports, a statement by Jeune Afrique, and Roger, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
The officers took him to the Judicial Investigation Brigade, which transferred him to the border police, who revoked his entry visa and forced him to leave the country, according to those sources. Border authorities said he did not have the required accreditation to report from the country.
Harbert Traoré, a technical adviser for the Ministry of Communication, told CPJ in phone interviews Thursday and Friday that, at present, accreditation processes for journalists had been suspended, but accredited journalists already inside Mali could continue working. CPJ was referred to Traoré for comment by two government officials.
“There is no renewal of accreditation and there is no accreditation. All are suspended momentarily,” he said, adding that accreditations were stopped while authorities “modernize” the accreditation system. He said the suspension was in effect before Roger arrived in the country, but declined to say when it began or when it would end.
“Authorities in Mali should act swiftly to ensure foreign journalists can work freely and without gratuitous red tape,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “It is unacceptable for a country to simply refuse to grant accreditations to the press in the name of updating their bureaucratic processes.”
Traoré told CPJ that foreign journalists “must have accreditation” to work in the country and to obtain visas, but did not respond directly when asked about the penalties for working without an accreditation. He called the current situation a “little pause” for foreign journalism in Mali. Previously, in late January, authorities announced plans to change the country’s accreditation process, according to reports.
Traoré said that authorities were creating a new platform allowing journalists to apply for accreditations online, and expected that the platform could be finalized in the coming days. He added that he was focused on accreditation issues and did not know who was responsible for Roger’s expulsion.
Roger told CPJ that officers questioned him at the Judicial Investigation Brigade office for about 10 minutes about his work, and that he told the officers he was covering the political situation in the country. Roger has recently covered politics across West Africa.
Tensions between Mali and France have increased in recent weeks; on Monday, Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga accused France of promoting insecurity and division in the country, according to media reports.
A journalist who previously covered Mali for a foreign news outlet, who requested anonymity for professional reasons, told CPJ on Thursday that gaining permission to work in the country had previously been relatively easy.
The journalist said they were planning another reporting trip to the country, but the current uncertainty was giving them second thoughts. “We are trying to get accreditation and not getting it at the moment,” the journalist said.
[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its fifth paragraph to reflect that the suspension was in effect prior to Roger’s arrival in Mali.]