Reporters Without Borders hails the conditional release on 8 September of the 10 Radio Fahazavana employees who have been in pre-trial detention since 27 May, even if they still have to face trial on a charge of inciting a revolt, but condemns a government decision to suspend the broadcasts of another radio station, Radio Mahafaly, until further notice.
“We are relieved to learn that the Radio Fahazavana employees are free and have been reunited with their families,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The formal judicial investigation is finally due to begin this month and we reiterate our call for a fair trial that is not subject to political pressure.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We deplore the fact that political tension between the members of the transitional government and the leaders of the opposition continues to impact the media. The suspension of the Radio Mahafaly, an opposition station, is a flagrant example of this.”
The 10 Radio Fahazavana employees who have just been released are editor-in-chief Josiane Ranaivo, five of the station’s other journalists (Lolo Ratsimba, Jaona Raôly, Tiana Maharavo, Philémon Raveloarison and Tiburce Soavinarivo), two technicians and two security guards (Read the interview in French with Josiane Raniavo).
They were arrested by soldiers on the evening of 20 May for allegedly encouraging a mutiny earlier that day by gendarmes at Fort-Duchesne, and were transferred to the capital’s Antanimora prison on 27 May on charges of inciting a revolt and rebellion. Read the previous press release.
The same day that they were released, officials announced that the broadcasts of Radio Mahafaly, a station based in the central city of Antsirabé, were being suspended “until further notice.” A communication ministry delegation accompanied by police went to the station to enforce the measure. No equipment was seized and the station’s journalists are not been denied access to its premises, but they are not allowed to broadcast.
The station’s staff said they did not know the reason for the suspension order. “All our papers are in order,” station manager Mamy Andrianjafisolo told Reporters Without Borders. “After a trial period in 2009, we obtained a proper licence in May of this year,” he said, adding that he suspected the suspension was politically motivated. The station is owned by the municipality of Antsirabé, whose mayor, Olga Ramalason, supports deposed President Marc Ravalomanana.
Radio stations have also been the target of physical attacks. Radio Soatalily, the local offshoot of Radio Nationale Malgache (RNM) in the southwestern city of Tuléar, was ransacked on 27 August by anti-government activists protesting against the lack of opposition representatives in the state-owned media. During an attack on Radio Varatraza, the RNM offshoot in the northern city of Antsiranana, on 7 September, at attempt was made to burn down its transmitter but it sustained only partial damage.
“With a national conference on a solution to the crisis due to start on 13 September, we urge all the various political movements to respect media freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the current government to respect diversity of opinions and we urge the opposition to control its activists so that acts of vandalism do not recur.”