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: In June Amara Sidibe, a civil society leader in Bamako, claimed he was threatened for criticizing the constitutional reform effort initiated by the government. The threats were reportedly made by telephone, through intermediaries, and on the street.
Press and Media Freedom: A 2000 press 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 April 5, Ammy Baba Cisse, editor of newspaper Le Figaro du Mali, was sentenced by the Commune I tribunal to six months’ imprisonment in a defamation case brought against him by president of the National Assembly Issiaka Sidibe.
The Malian High Authority for Communications began more strictly enforcing media licensing regulations. Since the 1990’s, private media outlets operated without completing proper licensing procedures. Throughout the year the High Authority for Communications began enforcing regulations and granted official permission to several of these unlicensed television and radio channels to begin broadcasting, while forcing other channels to close for noncompliance with regulations.
Journalists continued to use the pretext of “transportation money” and “per diem” to solicit extra payment in exchange for better media coverage. This was in large part a result of media outlets being underfinanced, resulting in journalists receiving inadequate salaries.
In January a journalist working in Djenne, Mopti Region, reported receiving death threats via text messages from an unknown sender due to his radio presentation on reducing the risk of Islamic radicalization among youth.
The government restricted radio broadcasting based on operating without proper licensing. For instance, on June 12, in advance of a planned June 17 demonstration against constitutional revisions, the government announced the closure of 48 radio stations for operating without a license.
The government continued investigating radio host Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, known as Ras Bath, for “demoralizing the armed forces” and other charges. His supporters claimed the charges were politically motivated. On July 25, Bathily was given a suspended sentence of one year’s imprisonment. No arrest warrant was issued. He was not detained and he appealed the decision. Bathily was acquitted on November 27.
Violence and Harassment: On July 25, activist blogger Madou Kante was shot in the chest and injured while driving in Bamako. Kante was well known for denouncing corruption, nepotism, and political and religious leaders in his YouTube column.
Throughout the year, there were regular reports of journalists receiving death threats from unknown sources. In the north journalists continued to face sporadic threats and attacks from extremist groups. In many cases journalists were targeted because they reported critically on the possible constitutional referendum and the upcoming 2018 general elections.
In June authorities blocked internet social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, due to protests against President Keita’s project to revise the 1992 constitution. The government restored access to the sites a few days later.
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, approximately 11 percent of residents used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this. The government used social media restrictions to disrupt activists’ ability to organize (see section 2.b). Despite internet restrictions, between June and August, four peaceful protests numbering between 5,000 and 35,000 demonstrators occurred without interference from security forces. The protestors sought to voice opposition to a controversial constitutional referendum proposed by President Keita, which they viewed as granting additional powers to the presidency.
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.
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 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)
UNHCR reported 58,600 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mali as of September and 142,386 Malian refugees in the neighboring countries of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Humanitarian access in the north generally improved following the June 2015 signing of the Peace Accord, although insecurity related to terrorism and banditry were a growing 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, at the beginning of the year, there were 17,512 registered refugees and 301 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 March 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 31, there were 142,386 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 or refugee status.