Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. In July, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, state-owned media coverage was minimal; however, coverage by private media was ample. On December 18, the transition government declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a letter sent from the Ministry of Territorial Administration to regional and local authorities, this state of emergency granted authorities the power to take “all necessary measures” to control the press, social media, and all nature of publications, including radio and television broadcasts (see also section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees).
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” were euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.
Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the south was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of censorship and threats against journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, a reporter for the newspaper L’Independant was briefly arrested after reporting on the COVID-19 epidemic in the country. Reporting on the situation in the North remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups. Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations due to the security situation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority empowered to issue legal rulings on media content.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for conviction of defamation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ami Maiga filed a complaint against two journalists of Ouverture Media who alleged Maiga knowingly boarded a plane from France to the country while “infected with COVID-19.” On September 30, the two defendants were convicted of defamation. They received substantial monetary fines and were ordered to pay damages to Maiga of six million CFA ($10,400).
National Security: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. In late December, five prominent figures were arrested for allegedly conspiring to destabilize the transition government. On December 31, the public prosecutor’s office announced that six individuals were under investigation for “plotting against the government” and “offending the head of state.” Those facing charges included the five who were arrested, including a popular radio presenter, as well as Boubou Cisse, former president Keita’s prime minister, whose whereabouts were unknown, according to the public prosecutor.
During the July protests, the government restricted and interrupted internet access across the country. In its November report focused on human rights abuses committed during those protests, MINUSMA’s HRPD noted that various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and messaging applications Messenger and WhatsApp, were rendered inaccessible on the Orange and Malitel networks during the protests. The internet freedom NGO, NetBlocks, similarly reported that amid the antigovernment protests between July 10 and July 15, social media and messaging were restricted. The Malian Association of Online Press Professionals condemned the disruption.
There were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no censorship-related government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Nevertheless, COVID-19 mitigation measures imposed by the government in some instances restricted cultural and educational events. Some artists and students expressed concerns regarding the possible long-term impact of these restrictions.
b. Freedoms 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 freedom. From June to August, antigovernment protesters organized several demonstrations demanding increased government transparency and the resignation of then president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following the Constitutional Court’s announcement of final legislative election results, which overturned the provisional results of at least 30 seats. According to several reports, state security forces were deployed to disperse protesters and, in some instances, looters. Several media outlets, human rights organizations, and MINUSMA’s HRPD reported the use of live ammunition as well as tear gas by security forces and accused them of using excessive and deadly force (see section 1.a.).
In conjunction with the protests and calls for civil disobedience, several leaders of the M5-RFP movement were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I for at least 48 hours. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that during the July 10-13 protests, at least 200 persons were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I and at several police stations in Bamako. Protests in Kayes also led to arrests in that city. Although large numbers of protesters were arrested, judicial records indicated only 21 were prosecuted. Protesters arrested and prosecuted were charged with disturbing the peace and inciting violence. Two were found not guilty while the remaining 19 were sentenced to a range of 45 days’ to 12 months’ imprisonment. By decision of the Appeals Court, they were released in September.
In March the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings as part of the COVID-19 response.
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 that of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the military and some militias established checkpoints ostensibly to maintain security. The unstable security situation, flooding, poor road conditions, and armed groups’ purposeful targeting of infrastructure, such as bridges, also 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 IEDs (see section 1.g.). MINUSMA and NGOs complained they were often hindered from conducting patrols or carrying out humanitarian missions as a result of impromptu checkpoints by various militias and armed groups such as the Dan Na Ambassagou and CMA.
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.
Foreign Travel: As a result of COVID-19 mitigation measures, on March 17, the government issued a decree closing all airspace and land borders. On July 25 and July 31, it was lifted for airspace and land borders, respectively. On March 26, the government also implemented a curfew, which it lifted on May 9.
On August 19, following the August 18 overthrow of the government by the military, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) closed airports and imposed a curfew. On August 21, the CNSP reopened the airport and borders; however, land and airspace borders with ECOWAS states remained closed until October 6, as a result of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS in response to the overthrow of the government. On September 6, the CNSP lifted the curfew.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
The security conditions in the North and central part of the country, including frequent intercommunal violence, forced many persons to flee their homes, sometimes seeking refuge outside the country. Furthermore, regional insecurity, particularly in neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, also led to the return of Malian refugees and the arrival of Nigerien and Burkinabe refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 287,496 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of October 31, and 143,301 Malian refugees in neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania) as of September 30. Approximately 100,000 IDPs were registered during the previous 12 months, and an estimated 40 percent of all IDPs were registered in Mopti Region. Insecurity related to terrorism and banditry remained a challenge in much of the country. Intercommunal violence and ethnic conflict in the central part of the country continued to cause insecurity and displacement concerns. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children constituted 58 percent of IDPs in the country.
The Ministry of Solidarity and the Fight against Poverty 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 one-half of all displaced families lacked the official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services, including schools, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing throughout the country as access permitted.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Security restrictions and failure to uphold the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
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. Approximately 15,000 refugees registered in the country were of Afro-Mauritanian origin.
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, but with some difficulty.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Originally scheduled for October 2018, after repeated delays, on March 29, legislative elections were held nearly 18 months late. On April 19, runoff elections took place. The electoral campaign was strongly affected by security conditions in the central and northern regions. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, allegations of voter intimidation and elections tampering, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the central and northern parts of the country. On March 25, opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was captured–reportedly by the MLF (a JNIM affiliate) while campaigning for legislative elections in the Timbuktu Region. On October 8, he was released.
According to MINUSMA, an estimated 5,000 election monitors deployed throughout the country reported incidents of voter suppression and intimidation, election material destruction, and kidnapping in the central and northern parts of the country. COVID-19, insecurity, and allegations of election tampering and intimidation led to low voter turnout (reported by the United Nations at 35 percent for the first round and 36 percent for the second round) and contested results. On April 30, the Constitutional Court changed the provisional results for 30 seats that had been announced by the Ministry of Territorial Administration, which oversees elections. The final results were widely contested across the country, sparking a political crisis and sometimes violent demonstrations from June to August, drawing to the streets tens of thousands of protesters demanding the president’s resignation, the dismissal of the National Assembly, and the resignation of the members of the Constitutional Court (see also section 1.a.).
Following a military mutiny on the morning of August 18, which resulted in the arrest of several members of the government and military, then president Keita, was arrested the evening of that same day. Shortly after midnight on August 19, Keita gave a short televised address in which he resigned as president and dissolved the government and the National Assembly. Later on the morning of August 19, the leaders of the mutiny announced the formation of the CNSP, a military junta. ECOWAS swiftly imposed sanctions on the country, initially demanding an immediate return to constitutional order and eventually agreeing to an 18-month civilian transition government. On September 24, a former minister of defense, retired Colonel Major Bah N’Daw, was sworn in as president of a transition government, and CNSP president Colonel Assimi Goita was sworn in as transition government vice president. On September 27, N’Daw named former minister of foreign affairs (2007-09) Moctar Ouane as prime minister of the transition government. On October 1, the transition charter was published; however, it does not specifically elucidate the line of succession in the event of the president’s incapacitation (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest).
Participation of Women and Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural or religious factors, however, sometimes limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles due to a perception that it was taboo or improper to have women in such roles. A 2015 law 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 former president Keita’s first cabinet of his second term, in which 11 of 32 ministers were women. In his second cabinet formed in April 2019, however, eight of the 38 ministers were women. Four of the 25 ministers of the transition government were women.
Compliance with the law mandating female candidate participation was nearly achieved for the March and April legislative elections, with 41 seats of the 147-member National Assembly going to women, representing 28 percent of the National Assembly. This represented an increase from the previous National Assembly, in which 14 seats were held by women. The National Assembly was ultimately dissolved by former president Keita, following the overthrow of the government on August 18 and his resignation and dissolution of the government on August 19.
Before it was dissolved on August 19, the National Assembly had at least eight members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The cabinet of former prime minister Boubou Cisse included one nomadic ethnic minority member.
Three Tuareg members of the dissolved National Assembly elected during the March and April elections were members of northern armed groups, including one member from Gao representing MAA, one member from Kidal representing HCUA, and one member from Ansongo representing CMA. A member of the Dogon ethnic self-defense group, Dan Na Ambassagou, was also elected from the circle of Koro.