Madagascan church leader says freed journalists may face trial

By Ecumenical News International
February 17, 2010

The president of the Madagascar's largest Protestant church has welcomed the release of two imprisoned church radio journalists, but has warned they are still facing trial for allegedly colluding in an army mutiny after reporting on the action - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"Yes the journalists have been temporar[il]y released. So while on the one hand we are happy, we are not satisfied about the decision of the tribunal. You will see, they are not really free, as they are awaiting trial," the Rev Lala Rasendrahasina, who heads the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) told Ecumenical News International.

Rasendrahasina warned of threats to the media and churches when he made contact with ENI on 16 February 2010. He said he believes that pressure from organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Malagasy Journalists' Association, as well as other international groups, helped ensure the release of the journalists.

Didier Ravohangiharison, the director of the FJKM church radio station known as Radio Fahazavana, and Lolo Ratsimba, had been in custody for more than a month.

Madagascar, an island nation located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, has been tense since March when, following weeks of protests, the president, Marc Ravalomanana, was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of Antananarivo.

The two were arrested on 8 January after the FJKM radio station reported on a plan by a group of solider[s] to overthrow President Andry Rajoelina. Ratsimba had been invited to cover the event in one of the military camps on 28 December 2009.

"The news was broadcast on our radio station. Some newspapers in town reported this event as well. We know that other journalists from newspapers that reported this event were not arrested or taken to court," Rasendrahasina had said in January. "Therefore our journalists are accused of being part of the action. It means that our radio station was targeted and has been targeted since March 2009."

The church leader said, "We are very concerned about the future of the Church because if this kind of situation continues the Church will not be free to tell the truth anymore." He added, "Although there is still a freedom of worship, any worship will be monitored and scrutinised by the government."

From the start of the journalists' imprisonment, the FJKM had been calling for international support to aid their release.

About 2.5 million of Madagascar's 21 million people belong to the FJKM, making it the country's biggest Protestant denomination. Some political commentators said that during Ravalomanana's time in office the lines between Church and State had been blurred.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.