TV5 Monde editor in chief Ousmane Ndiaye, producer François Coquet and editor Christophe Harnoy began their week-long stay in Mali with a 90-minute interrogation by state security at the Bamako airport police station after being detained as they were about to leave the airport.
“They asked us what we had come to do in Mali and whether we had done our military service, without our being able to understand what exactly we were accused of,” Ndiaye told RSF. The police used force to take Coquet’s mobile phone from him and did not return it until the end of the interrogation.
“Arresting journalists for no reason after they have just landed in Mali constitutes intimidation and obstruction,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The security forces have a duty to protect journalists while the authorities have a duty to ensure that journalists are free to cover next Sunday’s presidential election.”
A dozen journalists were chased away by police when they tried to cover a civil society and opposition march in Bamako on 2 June that had been banned. The Mali Maison de la Presse (House of the Press) issued a statement afterwards condemning the police use of “physical violence” and the “attempts to take cameras and other journalistic equipment.”
When reached by RSF, communication and digital economy minister Arouna Modibo Touré said: “No journalists will be blocked in the course of their work covering the election.” Asked about the arrest of the TV5 Monde journalists, he said he regretted “this unfortunate event” and that “security agents should not behave like this with journalists.”
Asked about the possibility of Internet cuts like those that occurred in August 2016, during protests against the arrest of an anti-government activist, Touré said there was “no plan to cut social networks during the election.”
Mali is ranked 115th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.