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 April demonstrations of the opposition, civil society, and religious leaders. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. When tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in April, the national media’s coverage was minimal. Various social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook, were also disrupted or restricted during the protest. Internet interruptions also occurred during the same period.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. Former presidential candidate General Moussa Sinko Coulibaly was called in for several hours of questioning at the investigative panel of the gendarmerie following an October 2 tweet perceived to be incendiary and critical of the government.
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. 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. As reported in 2018, elections in the country were often accompanied by an uptick in violations of press freedom. The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority with the power to issue legal rulings on media content.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. On June 4, Karim Keita, legislator, son of the president and chairman of the Defense Committee at the National Assembly, formally lodged a complaint against journalist Adama Drame and radio announcer Mamadou Diadie Sacko (aka Sax) for defamation. They had both accused Karim Keita of orchestrating the January 2016 disappearance of journalist Boubacar Toure. On July 17, the High Instance of the Commune III Tribunal rejected the complaint.
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 more favorable press coverage.
Private discussion was generally open and free in areas under government control but was more restricted in areas with a militant presence or where intercommunal violence had flared. Disruptions and restrictions of social media platforms as well as internet interruptions occurred during the April 19 protests. The government also restricted social media in 2018 ahead of the first round of the presidential election and subsequent run-off vote.
There were no credible reports suggesting 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 cost. Outside Bamako, access to the internet was very limited.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom. The governor of Bamako used state of emergency powers, in effect since 2015, to reject the formal request of opposition, civil society, and religious leaders to hold a peaceful march on April 5. The march took place despite the denial. Tens of thousands participated in the peaceful demonstration. In October several promilitary, antigovernment demonstrations demanded increased government transparency and support to the FAMA following deadly attacks against military installations.
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 LGBTI community.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
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.
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. Security restrictions and failure to uphold the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the army and some militias 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 IEDs (see section 1.g.). Conditions at the beginning of the year encouraged some refugees and IDPs to return to their homes in the North and the Center, but subsequent incidents of insecurity slowed the rate of returns. The government facilitated travel to the North and the Center 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.
The security conditions in the North and the Center, including frequent intercommunal violence, forced many people to flee their homes. UNHCR and the Ministry of Solidarity and the Fight against Poverty reported 187,139 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mali and 138,404 refugees in neighboring countries as of September 30. Humanitarian access in the northern regions generally improved following the 2015 signing of the Algiers Accord, although insecurity related to terrorism and banditry remained a challenge in much of the country. Intercommunal violence and ethnic conflict in the Center continued to cause insecurity and displacement concerns. While in June some IDPs in the Mopti region returned to their homes, the number of IDPs in the country continued to rise and had more than quadrupled since January 2018.
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 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 in the South and North as access permitted.
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 September 30, there were 26,851 registered refugees and 1,000 asylum seekers residing in the country. The majority of refugees were of Afro-Mauritanian origin–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 September 30, UNHCR estimated there were 138,404 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 74,205 Malian refugees had returned to Mali from neighboring countries as of September 30.
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.