Mali: Media Rights Body Helps RFI, France 24 Bypass Internet Ban

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has announced the creation of “mirror” websites that allow RFI and France 24 to remain available online in Mali despite a ruling junta ban on the French broadcasters.

On Wednesday, the junta definitively banned RFI and France 24 in the wake of reports that the Sahel nation’s army had carried out abuses.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it had used its Operation Collateral Freedom mirror site to ensure that the websites of the two broadcasters can be accessed from within Mali.

RSF launched the operation in 2015. The organisation’s “mirror sites” enable 47 websites in 24 countries, including Russia, “to circumvent censorship by their governments”.

RFI and France 24 cover African news extensively and have a strong following in the former French colony.

The broadcast ban comes after diplomatic relations between Mali and its former colonial power France plunged to their lowest point in years amid disputes over democracy and the alleged presence of Russian paramilitaries in the country.

Mali expelled the French ambassador in January.

RFI accused of incitement to hatred

The junta in power in Bamako announced on 17 March the suspension of the broadcasting authorisation granted to RFI and France 24.

The two French broadcasters were accused of incitement to hatred, after publishing testimonies implicating the Malian army in abuses against civilians.

The French government had called Mali’s initial temporary suspension of the French media channels a grave attack on press freedom.

France Medias Monde, the state-owned parent company of RFI and France 24, said in a statement that it “strongly contests the definitive decision to suspend” the two broadcasters.

According to locals in Bamako, the regular France 24 and RFI websites were not completely blocked on Thursday morning and could be loaded onto mobile phones, without necessarily having to go through the mirror sites created by RSF.

UN condemns junta decision

The United Nations on Friday condemned Mali’s decision to definitively suspend RFI and France 24, warning it was only the latest move to stifle press freedom in the Sahel nation.

“We are deeply dismayed by the Malian media regulator’s decision,” UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We call on Mali’s transitional military authorities to reverse this ban and allow independent media to work freely in the country.”