A protest against the detention of a popular radio presenter and social media activist in Mali has reportedly resulted in several deaths after clashes with security forces.
Dozens of demonstrators turned out in the Hamdallaye neighborhood of the capital Bamako to protest outside the courtroom where Mohamed Youssouf Bathily—known by his media alias of Ras Bath—was having his hearing.
Bathily was arrested Monday on suspicion of making disparaging comments about the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and the Malian security forces. The social media personality allegedly suggested that Mali’s armed forces were on the back foot in the battle against jihadi groups, which are fighting for power in the north of the country, as well as suggesting that President Keïta was unfit to orchestrate a military victory over the militants, Africanews reported. He is being investigated for allegedly breaking public morality rules.
One protester, Mama Camara, told AP that he saw three dead and several injured when searching for his friends at a medical clinic. AFP reported that at least one person was killed and 11 injured, two seriously, citing sources at the Gabriel Touré hospital in Bamako. The court hearing of Bathily—who is the son of Malian land affairs minister Mohamed Ali Bathily—was suspended as a result of the protest, in which police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
The protest is thought to be the first major demonstration in Bamako since 2012, when the military undertook a coup that ousted former president Amadou Toumani Touré. The coup triggered a chain of events that saw ethnic Tuaregs and militant groups—including the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Dine—seize control of much of northern Mali for several months in 2012.
France launched a counter-insurgency operation—titled Opération Serval—in early 2013, which retook control of much of the north of the country. But militant groups remain a threat in the country’s vast and arid northern region, and have also begun launching attacks in central Mali, closer to the capital.
Seventeen soldiers were killed in July when militants attacked an army base in the central city of Nampala. The attack was claimed by Ansar Dine, while army spokesman Souleymane Maiga told Reuters that three groups were responsible—Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Macina Liberation Front (which is closely linked to Ansar Dine), and an ethnic Peul or Fulani group.