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Malian Press Continues Strike for Release of Arrested Editor

  • Anne Look

Wednesday marks the second day of a press strike in Mali where private newspapers and many radio stations are protesting the arrest of a newspaper editor for publishing a letter, attributed to a soldier, that is critical of benefits awarded to members of the former junta.

Newsstands were empty for a second day in Bamako. Newspapers have pledged not to publish until their colleague, editor Boukary Daou, is released from state custody.

Some private radio stations are following suit, but several have returned to normal broadcasts.

Daou was arrested on March 6 after his newspaper, Le Républicain, published an open letter attributed to a "Captain Touré" in Gao.

The letter demanded the government reverse the $8,000 monthly salary reportedly awarded to ex-junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo or the soldier and his men would stop fighting in the north. The letter asked whether staging a coup should be judged an act worthy of such "recognition and compensation."

The president of the Maison de la Presse press association, Makan Koné, says the strike is a "show of solidarity."

He says they will not start publishing again until Daou is released. He asks how can one journalist keeping working while his colleague is in prison? He says this is about showing solidarity and putting a bit of pressure on the government.

Mali's interim president, Diouncounda Traoré, is standing firm on Daou's arrest. He spoke to journalists in Dakar late Tuesday, following bilateral talks in Senegal.

Traoré says "Captain Touré" does not exist. He says the journalist in question has the right to disagree with decisions made by the government, but Mali is in a state of emergency, the country is at war. He says it is serious to publish statements that appear to encourage soldiers to desert the front.

Traoré said Daou has been detained as authorities investigate the incident to determine whether or not it was a concerted effort to destabilize the armed forces. He said if Daou is innocent, he will be released.

The case highlights simmering tensions in Mali with regard to the mid-level officers who mutinied and then overthrew the elected government on March 22nd of last year.

Mali has been at war since early January when the al-Qaida-linked Islamist fighters in the north launched a southern offensive.

French, Malian and Chadian troops have pushed the Islamists out of the major northern towns they had occupied since last April, but fighting continues in the far northeast. Security experts warn the rest of the formerly occupied territory is far from secured.

France says it will begin pulling its 4,000 soldiers out of Mali next month. The regional African force meant to replace the French has been slow to deploy to Mali and is not yet on the front lines.

There is concern the Malian army is not well-trained or well-equipped enough to take the lead against remaining Islamists.

But President Traoré says the eventual French withdrawal comes as no surprise.

He says the French have always said they are not in Mali for good. He says Malian and African troops will take over. He says the French will leave when it is possible, but it is clear that France will accompany Mali as long as necessary.

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