Armed men kidnap Malian journalist from newspaper office

BAMAKO // Gunmen abducted the director of a Malian private newspaper from his office and beat him "to a pulp" before releasing him, a colleague told AFP Friday.

Saouti Haidara is now in hospital with serious injures, another colleague said.

"Several armed men came on Thursday to the newspaper's offices," said a journalist with L'Independant newspaper, who asked not to be named.

They fired their weapons into the air before abducting Saouti Haidara, the source added.

"Saouti was threatened in front of us while he was giving instructions to the printer about the (next day's) newspaper," he added.

"The armed men were very tense."

A few hours later Haidara was released but according to the journalist "he has been beaten, tortured, by the armed men.

"He was admitted very quickly to a medical centre in Bamako. He was really beaten to a pulp."

Makan Kone, president of the Bamako Press House visited him in hospital.

"He is in a serious condition, the armed men broke his right arm which is in plaster. He was also hit in the head and is in a very bad state," he said.

"They threatened to kill him if he laid charges," Kone said.

He condemned "repeated attacks on freedom of expression" and a "deliberate operation of retaliation against the Malian press which is only doing its job.

"These people want to kill democracy and we will organise a march and observe a day of no press," he added, without giving further details.

State intelligence agents briefly arrested Haidara in June.

Several other journalists have been attacked or held briefly since Mali was plunged into crisis by a March 22 coup, which created a political vacuum that allowed several armed groups to seize the country's north.

Journalist Haby Baby, who works for two separate publications, has twice been arrested, most recently for denouncing the conditions under which he and other prisoners were held.

"Horrible things happen in these secret places, these isolated cells, these dark and terrifying hallways where you hear abominable screams, calls for help," wrote Baby.

In May the director of bi-monthly private journal Le Pretoire, Birama Fall, was also held by state security agents over an article he had written.

Last week another journalist was taken and beaten by armed men in balaclavas.

While the junta has handed power over to an interim government, the coup leaders remain influential in Bamako.

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