New York — Malian authorities should immediately return the passports and equipment seized from two international Al-Jazeera journalists who were detained for more than two days over the weekend for attempting to cross into militant-controlled territory, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police in the city of Ségou arrested Fadoul Abderazak, a reporter from Chad, and Salihu Awalu, the broadcaster's cameraman who is from Nigeria, at around 11 a.m. on Saturday, according to local journalists. The two reporters were interrogated about their work and their personal life, and then transferred into the custody of Malian state security in Bamako, the capital, according to Cheick Diouara, a Reuters TV journalist who was working with the journalists at the time of their arrest. Abderazak and Awalu were released on Monday at 4 p.m., but officers kept their passports and laptops, Dioura said.
Abderazak and Awalu were stopped while headed to Mopti, the last major town under government control in the northern half of Mali, a region that Jihadist militants have occupied since March, Diouara said. He said the journalists were trying to cross into the Islamist-controlled territory and report on events in the town of Gao. Al-Qaeda-linked militants of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa have used brutal intimidation to impose fear and draconian censorship on news outlets in Gao, according to news reports.
Nouhou Togo, spokesman for the Malian Defense Ministry, told CPJ that the journalists had been stopped for security reasons and to prevent them from being taken hostage in the Islamist-controlled region. He said he would inquire about their confiscated passports and equipment.
"Mali's government claims to have arrested Al-Jazeera journalists Fadoul Abderazak and Salihu Awalu for their own safety, but two days of detention can only be interpreted as obstruction from fulfilling their duties, which require them to speak to both sides of a conflict," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on Malian authorities to return Abderazak and Awalu's passports and equipment immediately."
Abderazak and Awalu have worked in Mali since October, Diouara said. In November, they obtained official accreditation to visit the town of Sévaré to film the Malian military in war simulation exercises, he said.