There are growing concerns for the health of Rokia Traore, a Malian singer who has been on hunger strike at the Fleury-Merogis Prison near Paris since she was arrested on March 10 on allegations of kidnapping her daughter in a child custody dispute.
“I am very worried,” said Kenneth Feliho, her lawyer. “She is only drinking. She has not been eating for over a week and her immune system is weak.”
Among those calling for the musician’ release are African stars including Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour and Angelique Kidjo.
Damon Albarn, who performed with her in the group Africa Express, wrote: “We demand, for humanitarian reasons, the immediate release of Rokia Traore, whose fragile health is deteriorating day by day.”
Traore was arrested at the Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport while traveling between the Malian capital, Bamako, and Brussels. She had planned to attend a hearing at which she hoped to overturn a decision last year by a Belgian court that had given sole custody of her five-year-old daughter to her former partner Jan Goossens. Goossens is the director of the festival of Marseilles and is a Belgian citizen living in France. Traore has Malian and French citizenship.
Traore had also hoped to challenge a European arrest warrant that had been issued against her for “kidnapping, forcible confinement and hostage taking” of her daughter, because she had refused to hand her over to her father.
In a statement issued from prison she said: “I started a hunger strike ... to ask for a fair trial in Belgium and for the European arrest warrant to cease to be unfairly enforced.”
She has not been allowed any visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic and even Feliho has not been allowed to see her since Thursday last week.
This is more than a painful celebrity custody battle because it also involves a clash between European and African justice systems. France was acting on an arrest warrant from Belgium, but officials in Mali see the situation very differently. A Malian court gave Traore, not Goossens, custody of the child, and the Malian government issued a statement in support of the singer, saying that she has a Malian diplomatic passport.
Traore filed complaints about Goosens in Mali, France and Belgium, which she says have not been investigated, although later in her prison statement she says they were a major factor in the Malian decision to grant her sole custody.
In an interview with a Belgian paper, Goossens said that “all horrible and false accusations were investigated and dismissed. All attempts to negotiate and achieve solutions were refused. I’m being cut out of my daughter’s life in a brutal way. My wish is that the rule of law can do its work so that our daughter can see both her parents again.”
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