Malian journalist gone missing – NGO

2012-05-24 09:03

Dakar - A Malian journalist has gone missing, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday amid continuing political instability after a rebel takeover in the north and a military coup.

"Babi Ahbi, the editor of the Bamako-based periodical Agora, has been missing since 12 May," said the international media freedom NGO.

"His family, friends and colleagues are all very concerned by his sudden disappearance at a time of threats to media personnel. No one has so far ventured any theory to explain how he vanished."

The media watchdog called on the police to "shed light on this journalist's disturbing disappearance" and said they must not rule out the possibility that it is linked to his work.

Reporters Without Borders said, "whether he has been kidnapped, imprisoned or killed, his family and colleagues have a right to know the facts".

Some sources told Reporters Without Borders that Ahbi supported "the people in the north of Mali", where an armed group has proclaimed a breakaway state.

Amid continuing political instability following the rebel takeover in the north and the military coup in March, Reporters Without Borders compiled a summary of media freedom violations in Mali during the past three weeks.

"Chaos has reigned in the north since March, but the persistence of media freedom violations in the south, especially the capital, Bamako, is intolerable," the media watchdog said.

"It shows that the 22 March coup has overturned Mali's status as a regional model of respect for freedom of information. The authorities can no longer be counted on to let the media operate freely.

Journalists' rights

"The list of violations of journalists' rights keeps on growing."

State Security officers arrested Birama Fall, the editor of bi-weekly Le Pretoire, at his newspaper on 12 May, and questioned him for four hours before letting him go.

They interrogated him about a phone conversation with a former government minister who had told him that the bodies of many "Red Beret" participants in a failed counter-coup on April 30 were buried in a mass grave in Diago, a few kilometres outside Bamako.

The former minister gave Fall its alleged location but Fall had refused to publish the information because he could not confirm it.

Saouti Haidara, the editor of the privately-owned daily L'Independant, was briefly arrested on 16 May and was given the same treatment as his colleague from Le Pretoire, said the NGO.

Haidara was interrogated about a "leaflet-style" article he had published the previous week advising Malians to stay at home or to avoid public and military buildings because of the threat of bombings or armed attacks by "a certain Captain Toure".

The intelligence officers wanted to know who his source was.

"These two arrests show that phones are being tapped, which is a serious violation of journalists' rights," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Illegal phone tapping combined with interrogation endangers journalists and their sources and can seriously impact the media's ability to provide the public with news and information."