Reporters Without Borders is disturbed to learn that Alphonse Afakandro of Mandomba an’i Melaky, a radio station based in the west-coast town of Maintirano, is being prosecuted on charges of defamation, insult and dissemination of false information as a result of complaint by the local gendarmerie over a report about illegal sea-turtle fishing.
Arrested on 10 June, Afakandro was questioned the same day by a public prosecutor, who ordered his conditional release pending trial on 27 June.
“We condemn the arrest of this journalist, whose report referred to a widespread problem in Madagascar, the lack of appropriate police efforts to combat the poaching of turtles, a protected species. This case is typical of the difficulties that journalists encounter when trying to cover corruption by local authorities and attacks on wild-life and the environment.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The case also highlights a little-known aspect of the Madagascan media. Far from Antananarivo, provincial journalists are also being harassed. We hope Afakandro’s trial results in his acquittal.”
According to the daily La Vérité, Afakandro was arrested “by a dozen policemen and gendarmes armed with Kalashnikovs and automatic pistols (...) The men in battledress showed him no summons or arrest warrant.”
His arrest was prompted by a report that had just been broadcast in which he said sea-turtles caught by fishermen in a nearby village were confiscated by a group of gendarmes who then held on to them. The fishermen interviewed for the report said that, instead of handing the turtles over to the maritime administration, the gendarmes kept them for their own consumption.
The provincial correspondents of national radio and TV stations are often threatened by the local authorities if they broadcast a report that caused displeasure.
Things are no better for local privately-owned radio stations. Radio stations in the western town of Miandrivazo no longer even dare to broadcast press reviews or interview guests for fear of provoking the wrath of local officials. The news reports of Vary sy Rano, a privately-owned radio station in the central town of Antanifotsy, have been censored since December 2009 by the district chief, who thinks it is too critical of the local authorities.
On 3 June, Reporters Without Borders released a report entitled “Deforestation and pollution, high-risk subjects” that looks at the increase in harassment of journalists who try to cover damage to the environment. Download the report.