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Mali's president-elect urged to improve press freedom

Boys walk in front of a poster of Mali's President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako, 13 August 2013.
Boys walk in front of a poster of Mali's President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako, 13 August 2013.

REUTERS/Joe Penney

Mali's next president must seize the opportunity to improve the country's record on press freedom, which suffered under months of political and sectarian conflict, the International Press Institute said today.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a Sorbonne-educated former foreign minister, is due to take office on Sept. 4. He has pledged to restore democracy and stability in a country riven by divisions between the country's north and south.

Before a military coup in March 2012, Mali enjoyed a relatively free and vibrant media environment. But following the coup and an increasingly-hostile insurgency in the impoverished north, journalists faced threats, intimidation and arbitrary detention. Several radio stations were also ordered off the air. Despite a French-led military intervention in January 2013 to support the interim civilian government and stabilise the north, attacks on both foreign and Malian journalists continued.

“The president-elect is off to a good start by promising democracy and tolerance in Mali,” said Barbara Trionfi, IPI's press freedom manager. “But he also needs to ensure that his inaugural statements include a call to respect the freedom of media and expression and an apology for the detention of journalists and the closure of media carried that occurred during the height of the conflict.

“Before the coup, Mali had a healthy media environment. That needs to be restored, and more progress can be made by abolishing criminal defamation and bringing to justice those who attacked journalists,” Trionfi said.

Keita, known widely as IBK, won 77% of the vote in a second round of voting on Aug. 11 in an election that international monitors reported was relatively free and fair. The European Union and other international donors pledged €3.25 billion in development assistance to the country at a donor conference in Brussels on May 15, with the EU insisting the aid was contingent on restoring democracy and human rights in the country.

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