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Mali: Charges against journalist and co-defendants still detained after court freed them must be dropped, say UN experts

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GENEVA (8 April 2021) – UN human rights experts said today they are alarmed by the continued detention of a journalist and four senior officials and urged authorities to immediately drop the charges against them in line with an order last month by the Bamako Court of Appeal which had dismissed the case for lack of evidence and ordered the release of the five men.

The Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers said the arrests in December 2020 of journalist Mohamed Bathily, known as Ras Bath, as well as Vital Robert Diop, Souleymane Kansaye, Mahamadou Koné, and Aguibou Macky Tall --  all working for public and parapublic institutions -- were made without any judicial authority and outside of any legal framework.

“While in the custody of the General Directorate of State Security, which is not authorised to detain suspects, the five individuals were reportedly held incommunicado without access to their families, a doctor, or a lawyer,” the experts said.

“After their transfer to the judicial authorities, the five individuals were the subject of a judicial investigation for plotting against the government, criminal association, insulting the head of state, and complicity in these acts. Former Prime Minister Boubou Cissé was accused of the same facts, and he is reportedly in hiding, whereabouts unknown.”

After the Bamako Court of Appeal’s dismissal of the case on 2 March, Mali's Attorney-General challenged the decision and appealed to the Supreme Court.

“There seems to be political motivations in the handling of this case, as illustrated by the alleged due process violations; the decision by the Minister of Justice on 23 February 2021, to transfer the judges in charge of the case to other positions a few days after the recommendation by the General Counsel of the Court of Appeal on 16 February 2021, to drop the case for lack of evidence; the dismissal of the case by the Bamako Court of Appeal, and the continued detentions of the five individuals. These are clear violations that point to the existence of arbitrary detention,” the experts said.

They said the prosecution of the journalist Bathily and his co-defendants and their continued detention could amount to judicial harassment. “This, particularly in a context where Malian authorities and the country’s justice system have not always shown the same diligence and determination to prosecute or punish alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations and abuses, some of which could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity as highlighted, for instance, in the June 2020 report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Mali,” the experts said.

“We urge the Malian authorities to drop the charges and insist on the scrupulous compliance with Mali's relevant human rights obligations,” the experts said.
 
The experts have also conveyed their concerns directly to the Government of Mali.

ENDS

The experts: Mr. Alioune Tine (Senegal) took office as independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali on 1 May 2018. The mandate of independent expert was renewed by the Human Rights Council on 24 March 2021 for a period of one year to assist the Government of Mali in its actions to promote and protect human rights and in the implementation of the recommendations made in Council resolutions. Mr. Tine was a founding member and President of the African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) and Coordinator of the Forum of African NGOs at the World Conference against Racism in 2000. Between 2014 and 2018 Mr. Tine was Amnesty International's Regional Director for West and Central Africa. He has published many articles and studies on literature and human rights. 

Ms. Irene Khan was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2020 and is the first woman to hold this mandate. An internationally recognized advocate for human rights, gender equality and social justice, she was Secretary-General of Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009 and Director-General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) from 2010 to 2019. Ms. Khan is affiliated with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and has been Consulting Editor of the Daily Star, Bangladesh’s largest English newspaper.

Mr. Diego García-Sayán took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyersin December 2016. He was formerly a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for two consecutive terms. During his tenure, he was elected Vice-President of the Court (2008-2009) and President of the Court for two consecutive terms (2009-2013). He has long-standing experience working on human rights issues in a variety of settings, including for the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN human rights country page - Mali 

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Jean-Claude Misenga (jmisenga@ohchr.org).
For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org).

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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