Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.
Freedom of Expression: The government restricted freedom of expression and information, particularly during the presidential election period. A radio station that hosts an opposition talk show was abruptly closed. The government claimed security reasons for closing the station. Internet interruptions also occurred during the presidential election period.
Press and Media Freedom: Malian law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. It also criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. On August 1, Bamako Governor Colonel Deberekoua Soara issued a decree that ordered radio station 98.1 Renouveau FM to cease all operations following a July 31 broadcast of controversial radio announcer Yousouf Mohamed Bathily’s (a.k.a. Ras Bath) Cartes Sur Table (Cards on the Table) radio program. According to the decree, Bath’s statements during the broadcast “incited revolt and hatred.” On August 10, the high authority regulating communications ordered the reopening of the radio but prohibited the show Cards on the Table.
Violence and Harassment: Renouveau TV and Radio directors Antoine Solange Dembele and Djibril Sacko stated that on the morning of August 2, two armed police officers arrived at Renouveau FM and posted a closure notification on the door. Shortly thereafter, Dembele recounted, a “truck of armed police, carrying tear gas” arrived to prevent anyone from entering the building.
Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations.
Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” became euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better-financed organizations often receiving better press coverage.
Digital rights NGO Internet without Borders condemned the blocking of access to social media and published on August 1 a detailed analysis conducted by the Open Observatory of Network Interference, which demonstrated that, beginning July 29, “access to certain platforms and websites,”–including Twitter and WhatsApp, were blocked by Orange Mali, the country’s primary mobile carrier. Embassy staff, foreign diplomats, the public, and media sources reported experiencing disrupted internet access and limited transmission on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter from July 29 to more than one week after the second round of the election on August 12. Internet access was restored following the presidential election.
There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were numerous internet cafes in Bamako, but home internet access remained limited due to the expense. Outside Bamako, access to the internet was very limited. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12.7 percent of residents used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this. Security forces used tear gas to break up a June 2 march led by leading opposition politicians and activists. The governor of Bamako used State of Emergency powers, in effect since 2015, to deny the organizers’ formal request to hold the march. March organizers held the march despite this denial. More than 30 protesters, including presidential candidates, were injured during the violence. A reported 16 protesters were admitted to Hospital Gabriel Toure, with unconfirmed reports of two critically injured, of whom one died from his wounds on June 3. The government claimed three security force members also suffered injuries. The government denied that live ammunition was used and defended the actions of the security forces. The political opposition condemned the violence and called for another march on June 8, which the government permitted without restrictions. The June 8 march occurred peacefully.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association except for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services, to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Failure to uphold the Peace Accords and security restrictions affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the army established checkpoints to maintain security, and the unstable security situation limited freedom of movement. The populations of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from roadside bombs (see section 1.g.). Conditions at the beginning of the year encouraged some refugees and IDPs to return to their homes in the North, but subsequent incidents of insecurity slowed the rate of returns. The government facilitated travel to the North for IDPs who lacked the means to pay for their travel.
Police routinely stopped and checked citizens and foreigners to restrict the movement of contraband and verify vehicle registrations. The number of police checkpoints on roads entering Bamako and inside the city increased after a rise in extremist attacks across the country. Journalists often complained that the government, citing security concerns, did not allow them to move freely in the North during military operations.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The UN independent observer reported 61,404 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mali and 138,675 refugees in neighboring countries as of August. Humanitarian access in the northern regions generally improved following the June 2015 signing of the Peace Accord, although insecurity related to terrorism and banditry remained a challenge in much of the country.
The Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection registered IDPs, and the government assisted them. IDPs generally lived with relatives, friends, or in rented accommodations. Most IDPs resided in urban areas and had access to food, water, and other forms of assistance. As many as half of all displaced families lacked official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services, including schools for children, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing in the South and North as access permitted.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. According to UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and the government, by July 31, there were 24,368 registered refugees and 601 asylum seekers residing in the country–the majority of whom were Afro-Mauritanian refugees expelled from Mauritania in 1989–and their children. At a meeting between UNHCR and ministers from the Economic Community of West African States, the government committed itself to assisting all Mauritanian refugees who wished to integrate locally with a declaration of intention to facilitate their naturalization. In 2015 the government issued birth certificates to nearly 8,000 refugee children born in the country as part of its commitment to facilitate local integration for Afro-Mauritanian refugees, allowing them to access public services, sign employment contracts, buy and sell land, set up companies, and borrow from banks.
As of August there were 138,675 Malian refugees registered in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. New refugee arrivals continued to increase throughout the year due to the conflict and violence in Mali. Despite security challenges, the government reported 60,373 Malian refugees had returned to Mali from neighboring countries as of August.
Temporary Protection: The government’s Office of International Migration is responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicates refugee or asylum claims and provides temporary protection pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that right.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2018 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) won the presidential election, deemed to have met minimum acceptable standards by international observers despite some irregularities and limited violence. One woman was among the 24 candidates who participated in the first round of elections, which were followed by a run-off election between the top two candidates.
The electoral campaign was strongly affected by security conditions in the central and northern regions. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the Center and North, while government officials continued to travel to and administer programs in those areas.
Public media coverage of all candidates was generally equal and met standards outlined by the National Committee for Equal Access to State Media. The state media, however, favored the incumbent IBK by covering his actions as a candidate, as president, and of the government, and did not cover opposition candidates.
Security incidents and inaccessibility (mostly due to roads washed out after heavy rains) affected 490 polling stations, 2.1 percent of the total, during the runoff vote, according to an August 12 statement from Minister of Security and Civil Protection General Salif Traore. This was down from 869 polling stations or 3.77 percent of all stations that were affected in the first round of voting July 29. Of the 490 closed polling stations nationwide, 440 were in Mopti Region, according to Traore. He reported that 100 of the 440 closed stations in Mopti were unable to open due to lack of accessibility. Voter turnout was 43 percent for the first round of elections, and 34.5 percent for round two.
Legislative elections, originally scheduled to be held in October, were delayed until at least June 2019. A six-month extension of the current deputies mandate was instituted by the government.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles. A law passed in November 2015 requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was fully implemented in President Keita’s first cabinet of his second term, in which 11 of 32 ministers were women. There were only 13 women in the 147-member National Assembly. There were four women on the 33-member Supreme Court and two women on the nine-member Constitutional Court, including the head of the court.
The National Assembly had at least 16 members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The prime minister’s cabinet included pastoral and nomadic ethnic minority members.
Four members of the National Assembly were members of northern armed groups, including two Tuaregs from Kidal associated with the HCUA, one Tuareg from Kidal associated with GATIA, and one member from Gao associated with the MAA. National Assembly members previously allied with Ansar al-Dine ended their association with the group following the French intervention in 2013.