Professor jailed in Mali for criticising the junta

Assimi Goïta waving in 2020
Junta leader Assimi Goïta came to power in a coup in 2020 following anti-government protests [AFP]

A prominent Malian economist and professor has been sentenced to two years in jail, one of which was suspended, for his criticism of the military junta.

Étienne Fakaba Sissoko was also ordered to pay a fine of 3m CFA francs ($4,900; £3,900).

The 41-year-old academic, who has been in custody since March, was charged with defamation and damaging the state’s reputation by distributing fake news.

The charges relate to a book he published last year, which he defended in court, saying the work was based on fact.

Human rights groups say his is the latest case in a widespread crackdown on critics and political opponents of the military rulers.

They came to power in August 2020 when then-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was overthrown in a coup after huge anti-government protests over his handling of jihadist unrest.

Sissoko's lawyer, Ibrahim Marhouf Sacko, said he was "not surprised" by the verdict and would be filing an appeal, the AFP news agency reported.

The University of Bamako professor once served as an adviser to the late Mr Keïta and spent several months in jail in 2022, according to AFP.

The work that prompted his latest arrest is called Propaganda, Agitation and Harassment - government communication during the transition in Mali.

It accuses the junta of using manipulation and “even lies" to sway public opinion in its favour.

Before his arrest, Sissoko also published a post on Facebook calling for elections to be held.

The junta has faced criticism for reneging on agreed timelines for transitioning to democratic civilian rule. Elections due to be held in February were again postponed.

Critics also say the military-led government has failed to adequately tackle the worsening jihadist insurgency, despite the reported deployment of Wagner group mercenaries and expulsion of UN peacekeepers.

It has also faced criticism over its handling of the economy.

Earlier this month, participants in what has been termed a “national dialogue” suggested the extension of the transition period by another three years.

Several junta critics have been jailed over the last year, including popular social media influencer Rokia Doumbia and prominent activist Adama Ben Diarra.

In April, the junta also suspended political activities and imposed a media blackout on political coverage.

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