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.