Private media in Mali have launched a news blackout until authorities free the editor of a newspaper detained last week after publishing an open letter criticising the leader of last year’s military coup in the West African state.
Most private media have observed the strike, which began on Tuesday, to protest the detention of the editor of Le Republicain, Boukary Daou, on March 6. He has yet to be officially charged with any crime.
The newsstands of the dusty riverside capital Bamako, which normally hold more than 30 newspaper titles, looked sparse on Wednesday as the strike entered its second day, leaving a vacuum of news during a French-led offensive against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, Reuters reports.
Private radio stations were either silent or playing only music. Even religious radio channels, which had continued their normal programming on Monday, fell silent or switched to readings of the Koran on Tuesday.
“The strike has been very widely observed, by 100 percent of the written press and 90 percent of private radio stations,” said Alexis Kalambry, general secretary of the written press association and editor of the Echos newspaper.
“This strike will be followed all week until the liberation of our colleague,” he said.
The open letter, signed by Captain Toure and dated March 1, said that Malian soldiers combating al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels in the country’s desert north were angry at their lack of equipment and rations, while military leaders in Bamako were living in comfort on high salaries.
It complained that Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led a March 2012 coup and has since been named to a post overseeing military reform under an interim government, was being paid some 4 million CFA francs ($7,900) a month — a huge amount in the landlocked African country.
Most of Mali’s 16 million people scrape by on less than two dollars a day.
“We want to know if you have to carry out a coup to be recognised as a good soldier?” asked the letter signed by Captain Toure.
Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore said on a visit to Dakar on Tuesday that justice must be allowed to run its course but he noted that the letter had undermined the morale of the Malian military, which was unacceptable at a time of war.
Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders welcomed the decision by Malian media to strike until Daou was released by state security police.
The founder of the newspaper and member of the anti-coup FDR party, Tiebile Drame, was also arrested on Friday but subsequently released.
“The FDR rigorously condemns this arbitrary detention which seeks to intimidate and mussel the Malian press,” the party said in a statement.