Panafrican News Agency

Mali’s press ban reflects growing regional intolerance, says UN rights office

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - Mali’s ban on two major international broadcasters operating inside the country is "a worrying development" in itself but it also reflects growing regional intolerance towards freedom of expression, the UN rights office, OHCHR, said on Friday.

Highlighting the “pervasive chilling effect on journalists and bloggers” of the situation in the West African nation, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that the move against Radio France International (RFI) and France24 was just the latest in a string of (similar) actions by the authorities.

“We are deeply dismayed by the Malian media regulator’s decision to definitively suspend Radio France International (RFI) and France24,” Ms. Shamdasani said. “We call on Mali’s transitional military authorities to reverse this ban and allow independent media to work freely in the country.”

Mali has seen two armed ousters in the last two years, the first in August 2020, and the second in May, last year.

According to the OHCHR, RFI and France 24 received their first suspensions on 16 March. Both broadcasters had been accused of airing “false allegations” about reports of human rights violations by the Malian army, Ms. Shamdasani explained.

And on 27 April, the High Authority for Communication announced that "those provisional suspensions would be ‘definitive’”.

A UN statement said the use of digital surveillance tools had made it increasingly difficult for journalists, bloggers and rights activists to operate safely inside Mali and protect their sources, the OHCHR official said, pointing to the prevailing “climate of self-censorship” among reporters and rights defenders.

“More, not less, scrutiny is needed” of the actions of the authorities, Ms. Shamdasani insisted, her comments coming after some 500 people were allegedly summarily executed in Moura, a village in central Mali, earlier this month.

To date, UN investigators are yet to be granted access to Moura, where Malian Armed Forces accompanied by foreign military personnel reportedly carried out killings and other grave violations.

The statement said since the atrocity, OHCHR had continued to document other serious allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in many parts of the country.

Amid ongoing regional insecurity outside Mali and across the Sahel caused by climate shocks, violence linked to competition for dwindling resources and mass displacement, Ms. Shamdasani warned that there was “a worrying trend in some of the other countries in West Africa as well".

She said this applies not only to freedom of expression and the work of journalists, but also civic space and civil society as a whole where there appears to be a growing intolerance for dissent.

The problem extends well beyond Africa and is particularly relevant ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 2 May, the OHCHR official insisted.

This year’s theme is "Journalism Under Digital Siege".

-0- PANA MA/RA 29April2022