Death threats against Malian journalist must stop, RSF says

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the serious threats received by Malian TV journalist Malick Konaté since he helped with a French TV report on the presence in Mali of mercenaries working for the Russian privately-owned military company Wagner Group. The authorities must prosecute those responsible and must protect journalism, RSF says.


Konaté has been the target of threats before but they have never been so numerous or virulent. Since the French TV news channel BFMTV broadcast its report on 31 October, he has been labelled as a “prey to be gunned down,” as “Mali’s public enemy No. 1” and as a “traitor” to be “eliminated for the good of the people” in social media posts, some anonymous, some not.

While running the Malian online TV news channel Horon TV, Konaté works as a cameraman for international media outlets and – despite the attacks – his role in the BFMTV report was limited to filming some of the video footage. He played no editorial role.

“This journalist’s plight, which is extremely worrying, is indicative of the free fall that press freedom is experiencing in Mali,” said Sadibou Marong, the director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau. “Malick Konaté now fears for his life simply for doing his job as a journalist by participating in a documentary. The authorities must react and must protect journalism and the freedom to inform in a country where media professionals are barely able to work freely any more for fear of reprisals.”


“Act of high treason”

The threats against Konaté are not limited to those by individual Internet users. The Collective for the Defence of the Military (CDM), a group that defends the transitional government and Malian armed forces, posted a statement on Facebook on 3 November that described his role in the BFMTV report as an “act of high treason” and as “irresponsible on the part of a so-called Malian in France’s pay,” and called for a judicial investigation.

The next day, Konaté received a call from the head of the police Judicial Investigation Brigade (BIJ) saying his presence was “needed.” That same day, soldiers in civilian dress went to his home in the capital, Bamako, and returned the following day. Fortunately, Konaté had been out of the country since September.

Ever since the military took power in a coup in August 2020, Konaté has been accused of opposing the new authorities and has often been the target of death threats. On 4 June, two hooded men on a motorcycle smashed the windows of his car while it was parked outside his office.


Shrinking media space

The space allowed to the media contracted ever more just days after the BFMTV report. Joliba TV News – Mali’s leading TV news channel, which has a reputation for editorial independence – was suspended for two months on 3 November by the High Authority for Communication (HAC), Mali’s media regulator, for criticising the transitional authorities at the end of September.

Foreign media that had correspondents in Mali have moved them to the capitals of nearby countries, either Dakar (Senegal), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) or Niamey (Niger).

Benjamin Roger, a French reporter working for the French monthly Jeune Afrique, was expelled less than 24 hours after arriving in Bamako in February on the grounds that he lacked proper press accreditation. The military junta shut down local radio and TV news broadcasts by Radio France Internationale (RFI) and France 24 six weeks later after RFI broadcast a report about summary executions and looting by Malian soldiers and mercenaries working for Wagner Group, whose presence in Mali has been widely reported since the start of the year.

Mali is ranked 111th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.