A week after the coup in Mali, some people are worried that freedom of expression is being trampled, after opponents of the military government were attacked while holding a meeting on Thursday in the capital, Bamako. Amnesty International has called on the military government to investigate the incident.
On Thursday evening, charred patches on the ground near the Bamako labor offices marked spots where motorcycles and a car were burned during the unrest.
People who were at the meeting said that what appeared to be pro-junta youth suddenly began hurling stones into the yard where people were gathered. They said those who were attacked then went after the stone-throwers and fighting broke out.
This man, who said his hand was injured in the scuffle, did not want to be identified, fearing for his security.
He says the country is in danger; he fears that civil strife is likely to become worse in the days and weeks to come. “If people no longer have the right to assemble and express themselves without worrying about being attacked,imagine that level of attack on human dignity and human rights," he said.
He says, as I see it we’ve got two options: remain silent, or speak out and face the violence like that we saw on Thursday.
It is not at all clear whether the military was connected to the attack on coup opponents. That is a critical question, says Moctar Mariko, president of the Malian Human Rights Association. He told reporters on Friday that if people were blocked from expressing themselves, this in itself is an attack on human rights.
Mariko says, it’s the state that must guarantee citizens’ rights. Can we say there is a crackdown on freedom of expression? He says that depends on whether the military was behind Thursday's incident. But whatever the origin of the attack, it was plain and simple a human rights violation, Mariko says.
Amnesty International on Thursday called on the military authorities to investigate attacks on coup opponents and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Tieman Coulibaly, head of a Malian political party and co-founder of the civil society coalition holding the meeting, said some minority political groups are looking to profit from the coup d’état and will stop at nothing to silence opponents.
He says the junta came to power saying they wanted to restore democracy. Its partisans are killing democracy. He says he thinks the military leaders are not even aware of the extent politicians are manipulating people in the name of supporting the coup.
He said opponents will continue to speak out, despite the risk.
He says, we know we’re in danger. We could be attacked at any moment. But the fight for freedom of expression is worth it.