Islamists in northern Mali reportedly changed their plans to cut off the hand of a suspected thief after they were confronted by people protesting such punishment, but a radio reporter covering the incident was badly beaten.
People in Gao took to the streets Sunday to protest the harsh punishment planned for the suspect by the Islamist group in power there, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, according to news reports.
"We don't want to know what this young man did, but they are not going to cut his hand off in front of us," a resident told Agence France-Presse.
The Islamists decided against going forward with the punishment in order to quell the protests, a spokesman told Bloomberg. But their continued muscle was evident as news spread that radio journalist Abdoul Malick Maiga had been beaten so badly that he was admitted to a hospital.
The Islamists’ police chief told Radio France Internationale that the journalist had been beaten on his orders and left outside the hospital.
Religious extremists have ridden the coattails of a Tuareg rebellion in the north to take over towns and inflict harsh punishments for crimes and moral offenses, reportedly stoning a couple to death for adultery late last month. The government, still reeling from a military coup and its turbulent aftermath, has condemned the Islamist incursion but has done little to stop it so far.
Journalists have been among those coping with a mix of chaos and violence in Mali. Last month, a veteran journalist was attacked by masked gunmen shortly after his paper slammed the government response to the Tuareg rebellion. Another editor was arrested after criticizing state security forces, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.
Just two years earlier, the same press freedom committee had exulted “the incredible blossoming of the Malian press” because freedom of expression and the ease of starting newspapers. Reporters Without Borders once praised Mali as “one of the most respectful of press freedom on the continent.” In June, it condemned what it called the “slow death of freedom of information.”
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Islamist police patrol in Gao, northern Mali, on July 16, 2012. Credit: Issouf Sanogo / AFP / Getty Images