Adama Diarra (Vieux Blen)

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Malian journalist Adama Diarra, also known as Vieux Blen, has been detained in the capital, Bamako, since October 21, 2020, in relation to his criticism of the country’s judiciary. 

Diarra hosts a talk radio show on the privately owned Radio Voix des Jeunes broadcaster, and is the founder of the Dougouba Kônoko newspaper, which covers political, social, and economic issues, according to media reports and an image of Dougouba Kônoko reviewed by CPJ. He also posts news and political commentary on his public Facebook page, where he has about 85,000 followers.

On October 20, 2020, Diarra received a summons from Mali’s Judicial Investigations Brigade, according to a copy of the summons posted on his Facebook page. Diarra responded to the summons the next day and appeared at Bamako’s District Court of the Municipality III, where he was placed in pretrial detention, according to two October 21 posts on that page.

Diarra’s arrest followed a complaint by the Autonomous Syndicate of the Judiciary (SAM) and the Free Syndicate of the Judiciary (SYLIMA), two trade groups representing magistrates, concerning his criticism on Facebook of judicial authorities’ conduct in the case of jailed musician Sidiki Diabaté, according to news reports, Diarra’s Facebook, and Bassidiki Touré, president of the Association of Private Press Publishers, a local trade group, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

In the days leading up to the October 20 summons, Diarra posted criticism of judicial authorities’ alleged mishandling of Diabaté’s case, including alleged procedural delays. Diarra had also been critical of judicial authorities during live radio broadcasts, according to media reports, Touré, and Mahamadou Talata Maïga, managing director of the Press House, an umbrella group of professional media organizations, who spoke to CPJ over the phone. CPJ was unable to review any episodes of Diarra’s radio shows.

On November 2, 2020, the Free Syndicate of the Judiciary posted a joint statement, co-signed by the Autonomous Syndicate of the Judiciary, which accused “a few media men” of making “undeserved attacks against the institution of the judiciary and its central actors, the magistrates.” The statement did not name any specific journalists. It also emphasized freedom of the press and expression as Malian values important for democracy.

Diarra is being prosecuted alongside another Malian journalist, Seydou Oumar Traoré, for “contempt of magistrates,” according to Touré and Maïga.

A judgement was expected in Diarra’s case on December 15, according to one of his October 21 Facebook posts, media reports, and Maïga.

CPJ was unable to determine the specific law Diarra is alleged to have violated.

Convictions under Article 115 of Mali’s penal code, which relates to criminal defamation of magistrates, can carry prison terms of up to one year. Cases can also be prosecuted under Mali’s 2019 cybercrime law, which includes multiple sections pertaining to expression online that can carry prison sentences ranging from months to years, according to a copy of the law reviewed by CPJ and an analysis of the law by Uganda-based digital rights group CIPESA.

Touré told CPJ on December 3 that Diarra, who is physically disabled, has suffered from headaches and colds while in detention.

CPJ called Abba Maïga, head of communication for the Free Syndicate of the Judiciary, on December 3, and he requested questions about Traoré and Diarra be sent to him via messaging app. He confirmed receipt of those questions the same day, but then did not respond.

On December 7, CPJ called the public prosecutor for the District Court of the Municipality III in Bamako, who is also the president of the Autonomous Syndicate of the Judiciary, Mamoudou Kassogué. Due to a poor connection, Kassogué agreed to communicate via WhatsApp. CPJ called and sent him written questions using the app and via standard text message, but he did not respond.

 In an October 16, 2020, Facebook post, Diarra claimed that Kassogué was “preparing a complaint” against him.