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JOURNALISTS, TEACHER SENTENCED FOR SCHOOL ESSAY

Five journalists and a 10th grade teacher have been jailed in Mali for "offending the head of state" over a story on a high school essay assignment about an imaginary presidential sex scandal, report the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO), an initiative of IFEX members, and other free expression groups.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Seydina Oumar Diarra, a journalist for the daily newspaper "Info-Matin", had written "The President's Mistress", an article featuring an interview with the teacher who assigned the essay in order that students would explore issues of moral corruption. He and the teacher, Bassirou Kassim Minta, have been detained since 14 June on charges of insulting the head of state. At a trial on 26 June, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) reports that Diarra was sentenced to 13 days in prison - the number of days he spent in pre-trial detention. Minta received two months in prison and a 100,000 CFA Francs (US$205) fine, and has been banned from teaching.

Editors Sambi Touré of "Info-Matin", Ibrahima Fall of "Le Républicain", Alexis Kalambry of "Les Echos" and Haméye Cissé of "Le Scorpion" were arrested on 20 June for publishing/republishing the article and writing editorials critical of the arrests. They were charged with "complicity in offending a head of state." According to RSF, Touré received an eight-month suspended sentence, while the others got three-month suspended sentences.

On 21 June, a crowd of around 200 journalists marched in the capital in front of the office of the Justice Minister to demand the release of their colleagues, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Security forces violently broke up the protest and fired tear gas at the journalists, badly injuring Ibrahim Famakan Coulibaly, president of the Malian Journalists' Association and the West African Journalists' Association.

In solidarity with their colleagues, other newspapers have promised to publish the article. To read "The President's Mistress", visit: http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/Info-Matin_-_Article_SOD.pdf

According to NAFEO, Mali has made tremendous progress since the despotic regime of Mossa Traoré was overthrown in 1991. "Media freedom in Mali has until now been one of the progressive examples in Africa," says NAFEO. NAFEO is calling on the government to release all detainees and repeal "the obsolete and archaic criminal law of 'offence to the Head of State'."

Earlier this month, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) urged African countries to scrap their insult laws at their congress in South Africa.

Visit these links:
- RSF on sentencing: http://tinyurl.com/2254ch
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2007/africa/mali21jun07na.html
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5045&Language=EN
- WAN: http://www.wan-press.org/article14292.html
(26 June 2007)

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