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Mali government uses Covid-19 to crack down on journalists

By M. A. Diallo

Malian media organizations denounced what they described as a government crackdown on the press and freedom of expression in a press conference on Sunday. Journalists said the government was using a state of emergency and Covid-19 prevention measures as a smokescreen to target the media. The journalists announced the organization of a day of action by the media to demand respect for press freedom.

In the decree implementing the state of emergency announced Friday ostensibly to fight the growing number of coronavirus cases in the country, the government stated that “the competent administrative authorities are empowered to take all appropriate measures to ensure control of the press and publications of all kinds.” Press organizations reacted with frustration, incomprehension, and concern.

“How can the fight against coronavirus give the right to control media content? We don’t understand. The mistrust that currently exists forces us to question the appropriateness of restrictions on freedoms in general and press freedom in particular,” said Bandjougou Danté, President of the Radio and Television Union of Mali (URTEL).

The media organizations announced a demonstration in the coming days to demand new laws strengthening press freedom. “We are one of the few countries that has not yet decriminalized press offenses. We want to decriminalize press offenses. We want to have a new law for access to information, so that every journalist can have access to all useful information, to the truth. We are mobilized to ensure the press has the best legal protections and working conditions,” said Dramane Aliou Koné, president of the Maison de la presse.

A few hours after the press conference, the Ministry of Territorial Administration, in charge of the application of the state of emergency, responded to the journalists’ statements. In a press release, the Secretary General of the Ministry stated “the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization reassures that the instruction relating to the state of emergency does not in any way aim to undermine any freedom whatsoever. It is not intended to prescribe new measures and only recalls the provisions of laws and regulations,” said Adama Sissouma, Secretary General of the Ministry.

A meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 21 between the presidents of press organizations, the Minister of Territorial Administration, and the Minister of Communication.