Mali’s leading human rights group said it was “deeply indignant” Saturday after a special-forces commander was freed from prison, where he’d been detained for allegedly using brute force to quash protests last year.
The head of the police counter-terrorism unit Oumar Samake had been held in the Sahel state over lethal skirmishes between security forces and opponents of ex-president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Last year, anti-Keita protests rocked Mali and eventually culminated in the president’s ousting in a military coup.
One such protest on July 10, 2020 sparked several days of deadly clashes with security forces.
Mali’s political opposition said at the time that 23 people were killed during the unrest; the UN reported 14 protesters killed, including two children.
On Friday, Samake was detained for his alleged role in the violence as part of an investigation into the affair.
But the move infuriated police officers — some of whom marched on the prison in the capital Bamako where he was held.
Samake was then freed after only several hours in detention under circumstances that remain unclear.
A jail guard told AFP that prison officials had stepped aside as a group of armed policemen came to take the special-forces commander.
However, a justice ministry official, who requested anonymity, said the government had decided to free the commander “for the sake of peace”.
Still, the circumstances surrounding Samake’s liberation have provoked outrage in some quarters of Mali.
On Saturday, the Malian association of human rights stated that it was “deeply indignant,” characterising Friday’s events as an “attack on democracy and the rule of law”.
The association urged “the highest authorities to take responsibility”.
Mali’s union of prison guards termed the events as “disastrous” in a statement, and called upon the government to take responsibility to avoid a “regrettable situation”.
Former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara also said on social media that he was “scandalised,” urging the interim government to “respect the law”.
The affair underscores the chronic instability in the vast nation of 19 million people.
Mali’s army deposed Keita in August 2020 after weeks of protests fuelled by grievances over perceived corruption and the long-running jihadist conflict.
Army officers then installed a civilian-led interim government to steer Mali back towards democratic rule. But military strongman Colonel Assimi Goita deposed these civilian leaders in May — in a second coup.
Goita has pledged to restore civilian rule and stage elections in February next year.
Yet there are doubts about whether the government will be able to hold elections within such a short time frame.
Mali has been struggling to quell a brutal jihadist insurgency which emerged in 2012 and left swathes of the vast nation outside of government control.