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Murder Of French Journalists Worsens Media Freedom In Mali

Bodies of the two journalists arrive in France (Pic courtesy AFP)

The abduction and murder of two French journalists in Mali last week demonstrates the endangered existence of media freedom – as well as other liberties – in a country where the Malian government, the UN peacekeeping operation MINUSMA supported by French troops, and Taurag rebels including the group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) maintain security.

The bodies of Ghislaine Dupont (57) a veteran reporter who had covered many conflicts in Africa in her 25-year career with Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Claude Verlon (55), a sound engineer with many years experience as a technician in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, were found outside a vehicle into which they had been bundled when they were abducted near the town of Kidal on November 2. They had just completed an interview of Ambery Ag Rissa, a leader of the MNLA for RFI. 
“The summary execution of these two RFI journalists is vile and unspeakable,” Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) secretary-general, Christophe Deloire said. “We feel both outrage and disgust that journalists who had the courage to cover an area such as the Kidal region were shot in cold blood after interviewing someone…”
The killings come in the run up towards national elections scheduled for November 24. In January, the French military intervened in support of the Malian government that was overwhelmed facing an uprising of the rebel Taurag which had established an autonomous region, Azawad. After pushing out the rebels a peace treaty was signed in June and French troops and a UN peacekeeping force stationed to stabilise the region. The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the killings.
“The United Nations should support the investigations in line with its mandate to protect civilians and its new plan for the safety and protection of journalists,” said Mohamed Keita, who coordinates advocacy for Africa for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius “blamed the murder on Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.”
The UK-based Article 19 said, “Mahamane Baby, spokesman for the Malian government promised that ‘some measures will be taken, including the opening of a judicial investigation in Mali.'”
RFI reported that French authorities were in Mali and investigations into the incident had commenced Four persons had been arrested. RFI also mentions contradictions between statements from the French military chief in the area and accounts from other sources.
While this tragic incident is the latest assault on media freedom in Mali that ranks 99th of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index, there has long been a litany of complaints about restriction facing the independent media. 
RSFwhile acknowledging fighting between Islamists and Malian government troops as tensions rise before elections said, “The presence of the large international force that was deployed in northern Mali could have guaranteed better access to information for journalists, but in practice the media were prevented from covering events. Security was used as a pretext for keeping reporters at distance, in what was a clear violation of freedom of information,” RSF said.
It blamed the French authorities in Mali for some of the restrictions on freedom of information.
More unfortunate, elections do not appear as a way whereby democracy or human rights will be restored in Mali soon.