BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The editor-in-chief of a popular news portal in Mali said Tuesday he took down an account of an Associated Press article detailing crimes allegedly committed by the military after receiving two threatening phone calls and an email from Mali's government.
The Paris-based editor said the Malian ministries of defense and communication warned in separate calls they would block his website in Mali, effectively shutting down his business, if he did not immediately pull an article about the AP investigation.
The director of the army's communications division, DIRPA, denied he made the calls.
Sega Diarrah, the editor of Maliactu.net, said he published on Tuesday a summary of the story, which detailed how a team of AP reporters spent six months tracking down the graves of six civilians said to have been killed by the military in the wake of France's intervention to drive out al-Qaida in its former colony.
An internal report by the Malian ministry of defense that was described to the AP but never made public said that the civilians were killed by a rogue unit of five Malian soldiers. The ministry of defense has denied the killings.
Diarrah said that after receiving two calls and an email, "I judged that the blocking of my website in Mali was a repercussion that would be even more negative for my publication than taking down the article."
"So for practical reasons, I was obliged to take down the article," he said.
The director of DIRPA, Lt. Col. Souleymane Maiga, denied calling Diarrah, saying "I am not in the business of threatening journalists."
The disappearance and killings of the six civilians whose bodies were tracked down by the AP were also reported by Amnesty International and by Human Rights Watch in separate reports.
Human Rights Watch called the alleged intimidation outrageous.
"Serious abuses were committed by all sides in Mali's recent conflict, all of which, including those reported on by the AP, should be investigated," it said. "Much needed justice and reconciliation will be better served by confronting and dealing with these abuses than by trying to intimidate reporters and editors trying to bring them to light."
All but one of the six were civilians who were from the Arab and Tuareg ethnic groups, which are lighter-skinned than Mali's black majority. The groups shared the same language as al-Qaida rebels who invaded Mali in 2012 and many were accused of collaborating with the extremists.
A top Malian official contacted Tuesday claimed that the media had failed to pay as much attention to extremist violence against dark-skinned Africans.
"And now because there were reportedly five or six Arabs who were killed by the Malian military, there is a huge outcry," said Daniel Tessougue, the country's prosecutor-in-chief.
Leaders of Mali's Arab community, who along with the Tuaregs represent less than 10 percent of Mali's population of 15 million, said that Mali's government should prosecute crimes carried out against its people regardless of the color of their skin.
"A mass grave that is discovered is equal to any other mass grave," said the Mayor of Salam, a village north of Timbuktu, who is the traditional representative of the region's Arab community.
The AP has reported abuses by all sides in the conflict, including regular stories about atrocities committed by the jihadists and killings and rapes by Tuareg rebel groups.
Callimachi contributed to this story from Dakar, Senegal.