Anti-government protests in Mali last month were “brutally repressed,” with demonstrators shot by security forces and bodyguards of the country’s top judge, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
In a report, the rights watchdog said it had evidence from dozens of sources about what happened during a weekend that dramatically ramped up the fragile state’s political crisis.
Protests had begun on Friday July 10, called by a coalition known as the June 5 Movement, which is demanding President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s resignation.
The following day, rumours circulated that protest figurehead Imam Mahmoud Dicko was to be arrested, prompting demonstrators to head towards his home in Badalabougou, a district in the capital Bamako, Amnesty said.
Some moved towards the nearby house of Manassa Danioko, the controversial president of the Constitutional Court, the report said.
“This led to the firing of live ammunition by security guards and by the police, at the protesters, causing the deaths of four individuals during that incident alone,” Amnesty’s West African specialist Ousmane Diallo said.
Other fatalities that weekend were caused by the security forces, and included people who had nothing to do with the protests, it said.
One was Faycal Cisse, 25, a former religious student who was hit while he was at a mosque some 300 metres (yards) from the National Assembly, and Halidou Bouare, 21, who was struck by two bullets as he was working at a car wash.
According to Amnesty’s estimate, which it said was based on interviews with 41 people, including witnesses, demonstrators, journalists and public officials, at least 11 people died during three days of unrest that weekend, and dozens were injured.
The opposition puts the toll at 23 dead and more than 150 injured, whereas Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and the UN give figures of 11 and 14 dead respectively.
It was the country’s highest toll from civil unrest in years.
Amnesty also called for “thorough investigations” into the activities that weekend of a special government anti-terrorist unit called FORSAT.
During a meeting of the June 5 Movement on that Saturday, “hooded men in heavy gear suspected to belong to FORSAT arrived heavily armed in two unmarked public buses to disrupt the meeting,” it quoted witnesses as saying.
The same day, said other witnesses, FORSAT members were deployed to arrest protest leaders and launched an assault on Dicko’s mosque, the report said.
The justice ministry did not respond immediately to an AFP request for comment.
– Key weekend –
The bloodshed of that weekend sharply escalated tensions in Mali, leading to a crisis summit by leaders of the 15-nation regional bloc ECOWAS.
They stood by Malian leader Keita and urged the creation of a government of national union that would include the opposition.
But the group has snubbed the unity government and scheduled a new round of nationwide protests for next Tuesday.
The June 5 Movement was largely sparked by anger over the outcome of legislative elections in March and April.
The Constitutional Court overturned the provisional results for about 30 seats — a move that saw several members of Keita’s party elected.
But the protest movement also fed on long-running discontent over Keita’s handling of an eight-year-old jihadist revolt and moribund economy, and perceptions of widespread corruption.