Muslim parents in Mali jailed for refusing kids polio vaccines

Bamako, Mali - Eleven Muslim people presented before a Mali court as members of a fundamentalist sect have been given jail terms of between six months and three years for denying their children polio vaccinations, a judge said.

Sidiki Sanogo, the justice of the peace who convicted and passed sentence on the 11 on Tuesday in the southern town of Yorosso, told AFP: "I was only applying the law, this sect was gaining ground in the region and its members lived in a secluded hamlet, their women cloistered separately apart."

The people sentenced included nine Malians and two citizens of the neighbouring sub-Saharan nation of Burkina Faso. One another person, a Malian, was acquitted because the court found he was "not opposed to the vaccination".

Without specifying when all 12 were detained and charged, Sanogo said they were convicted of "resisting authority, disobedience and rebellion" after they refused to allow their children to be vaccinated, arguing that "God makes people sick and he saves them."

"These people are Muslims who practise an unclear rite and who want to live outside any aspect of modern times," a legal source who asked not to be named told AFP.

Witnesses said that the trial proceedings were sometimes "rowdy" since the defendants stuck "tooth and nail" to their convictions.

Those jailed included the Burkinabe leader of the group, Amadou Konate, described by witnesses as a visionary guru with a negative influence on others.

Polio is a disease which mostly affects young children, targetting the nervous system and leading to paralysis, muscular atrophy and sometimes death when the victims become unable to breathe.

A bid by international agencies including the UN World Health Organisation and the UN Children's Fund to stamp out the disease across Africa was close to success when it took a setback last year at the hands of Muslim communities in northern Nigeria where the word spread that the vaccine programme was part of a Western plot to use contaminated drugs to sterilise African girls.

By the time this was sorted out and mass vaccination programmes could be resumed, the disease had re-established itself not only in northern Nigeria but in other countries of the continent and as far as the Middle East and Indonesia.