The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that Mali’s new media restrictions reflect a growing intolerance toward freedom of the press in the region.
U.N. human rights officials are expressing deep dismay at Mali’s decision Wednesday to permanently suspend Radio France International and France 24 from operating there. They are urging Mali’s military authorities to reverse the ban and allow independent media to work freely in the country.
The government temporarily suspended the two international broadcasters on March 16, accusing them of airing false allegations of human rights violations by the Malian army and Russian mercenaries.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the current climate of fear in Mali is having a chilling effect on journalists and bloggers.
“There is a lot of self-censorship. There is a lot of pressure," she said. "There have been a number of journalists—local, regional, international, who have come under pressure. Licenses revoked.… Journalists are trying to avoid reporting on sensitive topics, so that they do not fall foul of the authorities.”
Shamdasani said U.N. human rights monitors continue to document allegations of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in many parts of Mali. If anything, she said the prevailing situation in the country demands more, not less, scrutiny.
However, she said Mali is not the only country where attacks on freedom of expression and opinion are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity.
“We are seeing a worrying trend in some of the other countries in West Africa as well," she said. "And this applies not only to freedom of expression and then the work of journalists, but also civic space and civil society as a whole. There appears to be a growing intolerance for dissent, unfortunately.”
Shamdasani said journalists all over the world are under threat, and journalists increasingly are being discredited for their reporting, accused of bias or of spreading misinformation. She said governments have many tools they can use to intimidate journalists and prevent the free flow of information.
She said governments are increasingly using surveillance to monitor the work of journalists, adding that this makes it more difficult for them to protect their sources, to gather information, report on abuse, and bring perpetrators of crimes to account.