Mali expels visiting French reporter

A week after announcing it will become harder for foreign reporters to obtain press accreditation, the Malian authorities have expelled a French journalist within 24 hours of his arrival in the country. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the unprecedented expulsion and the use of an administrative pretext to prevent this journalist from working.

Benjamin Roger, a reporter who has been covering the Sahel region for the past decade, arrived in Bamako, the Malian capital, late on the night 6 February, was arrested at his hotel at noon yesterday and was expelled yesterday evening. He had gone to Mali on assignment for Jeune Afrique, a French monthly that specialises in covering Africa. He had a visa to enter the country but the authorities said he did not have press accreditation.

Press accreditation has rarely been demanded until now, and lacking it has not prevented journalists from working freely or ever previously been used as grounds for expulsion. But the transitional government’s communication ministry summoned leading foreign media correspondents last week and told them that accreditation would henceforth be harder to obtain and that a new accreditation application form would soon be available. However, officials provided no further details, leaving journalists in the dark.

The Malian authorities had never expelled a foreign journalist for an accreditation problem in recent years,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This is unprecedented administratively and alarming in practice. In a country run by the military for the past year and a half, this decision sends a disturbing signal to journalists. Using administrative grounds to prevent them from working fools no one. This just benefits those who want to prevent reporting that serves the public interest.

Jeune Afrique told RSF that it regarded the decision as “unjustified” and pointed out that its correspondent had at no point concealed the fact that he was a journalist when he entered Mali.

The climate has become increasingly hostile for the press and journalists in recent weeks, especially those working for international media outlets. In a letter to the communication ministry in January, the “Military Defence Collective” – a group of soldiers said to be close to the ruling junta – accused the correspondents of Radio France Internationale and France 24 of waging a “disinformation campaign” and said their accreditation should be withdrawn. A few days later, at former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s funeral, the head of the president’s communication unit described certain journalists as “liars” and “manipulators.”

As Mali has begun a rapprochement with Russia and has received mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a privately-owned Russian paramilitary company, the harassment and threats are being compared with the political and security situation after Russians arrived in the Central African Republic in 2018, with harassment of media outlets and disinformation campaigns on social media and in certain “newspapers” targeting France and French journalists, among others.

Mali is ranked 99th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.