Malian journalist Seydou Oumar Traoré has been detained in the capital, Bamako, since November 14, 2020, in relation to his criticism of the country’s judiciary.
Traoré is a talk radio host with the privately owned broadcaster Radio Jekafo, and also posts news and political commentary on his public Facebook page, where he has about 35,000 followers.
On October 22, 2020, Mali’s Judicial Investigation Brigade issued a summons to Traoré, according to a copy of the summons posted on the journalist’s Facebook page that day.
When Traoré did not respond to the summons, Malian security forces arrested him in the village of Kati, 15 kilometers northwest of Bamako, on November 14, and detained him in Bamako’s Central Prison awaiting trial, according to media reports as well as Bassidiki Touré, the president of the Association of Private Press Publishers, a local media trade group, and Mahamadou Talata Maïga, managing director of the Press House, an umbrella group of professional media organizations, both of whom spoke to CPJ over messaging app.
The summons followed a complaint by the Autonomous Syndicate of the Judiciary (SAM) and the Free Syndicate of the Judiciary (SYLIMA), two trade groups representing magistrates, according to those media reports and an October 22 post on Traoré’s Facebook page.
The complaint and summons related to Traoré’s criticism of judicial authorities’ alleged misconduct, including in the case of jailed musician Sidiki Diabaté and the October 21 arrest of Malian journalist Adama Diarra, according to Touré and media reports.
During the days leading up to the October 22 summons, Traoré repeatedly posted criticism of the authorities’ alleged harassment of Diarra and his arrest, as well as judicial authorities’ handling of other cases.
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.
Traoré’s next court date, where a judgement is expected, was scheduled for December 15, according to Touré and Maïga.
CPJ was unable to determine the specific law Traoré 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.
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.