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Madagascar: Security forces harass bloggers and twitterers

Opponents to the Haute Autorite de la Transition (High Authority for the Transition) have been holding daily demonstrations in the Malagasy capital since March 21, 2009.  Last Saturday's protest was harshly repressed by the security forces, and resulted in at least 34 injured people, including children. During the protest, a young man, dubbed Razily by Malagasy Internet users, held a flag proudly and courageously marched towards security forces. The security forces fired at him, but despite their bullets, he kept marching, holding the flag high and finally got so close to them, they threw him in their pick up truck, all the while beating him up and then throwing the Malagasy flag on the ground. Internet users still do not know what happened to him.

Razily's arrest - courtesy of radotiana.blaogy.com

Razily's arrest – courtesy of radotiana.blaogy.com

The HAT is now de facto leading Madagascar, since the former President Marc Ravalomanana opted not to resign but has instead transferred power to a military Directorate. Under duress , (the details can be witnessed on a youtube.com video and the American ambassador bears witness to the events, as he was also threatened with weapons pointed at him ), the Directorate then transferred power to the HAT. The HAT has since been duly recognized as a legal authority by Madagascar's Haute Cour Constitutionnelle de Justice which is responsible of making sure that the laws of land and the constitution are being respected in Madagascar.

No countries have so far recognized the HAT and its new President, Andry Rajoelina, the youngest African president ever, who under the Malagasy constitution, is still six years too young to even be on a Presidential election ballot ! And the former Malagasy President, Marc Ravalomanana, barely escaped from his Palace and is now seeking refuge in South Africa and Swaziland.

The Southern African Development Community and the African Union , while harboring themselves some countries that are no slouches in the antidemocratic and human rights violations department, have taken the stand that they will not tolerate putsches amongst their members and have not only banned Madagascar from their midst but are also considering sanctions.

Many western countries such as Norway and the United States have stopped aid to Madagascar and concerns have been raised on how the poverty stricken country which relies on aid for 80% of its budget will manage to hold its head above water, although the HAT has now declared its intentions on selling Ravalomanana's private jet recently purchased $60 million Air Force One/Two jet to replenish its coffers, at least in the short term. France which was accused by some as having, if not engineered the coup, then at the very least of supporting it, has been doing some amends of its own, saying now that it still considered Ravalomanana as Madagascar's President according to the constitution.

Such is the mind boggling and categorization defying political crisis that bloggers and twitterers are striving to report on. Online content about the crisis have been plentiful and have attracted international attention. Our colleague, Lova Rakotomalala, has been the subject of a Wall Street Journal article and a CNN interview for his dedication to relaying and translating Madagascar based twitterers’ contributions. Another blogger, Solofo Rafeno, has been invited to a debate hosted by France24 News.

There are however some alarming developments that could hinder Malagasy twitterers and bloggers’ reporting in the future. One website, Topmada.com, reports on March 30 that :

“20:00 – La police et les militaires ont arrêté certains journalistes et photographes pour les forcer à effacer leurs photos”

“20:00 – Police and soldiers have held some journalists and photographers to force them to delete their pictures”

This information is confirmed by twitterers. Twitterer Thierry_ratsiz was held and forced to delete his pictures by the security forces.

thierry_ratsiz: #madagascar Ils m'ont juste prie de ne pas prendre photos (d'eux!!) et effacer photos, peur de photos diffuses sur internet!!
thierry_ratsiz: hola, interpele par les gendarmes pour avoir ete surpris en prenant des photos… :/ #madagascar

They have just asked me not to take pictures of them and to delete pictures, for fear of having pictures spread on the internet!!
Held by the security forces for having been caught taking pictures

R1lita and Pakysse experienced the same thing as reported:

TRT @r1lita: @pakysse, other twitterer in #Madagascar, was also ordered to delete the photos he took in Antaninarina by police earlier.

But the most scary incident was reported by Avylavitra, one of the bloggers who has the most prolifically covered the crisis. He writes :

“Nahazendana ny maro ny zavatra nitranga teto satria tsy nanmpoizina velively: nisy iray tamin’ireo miaramila avy tao amin’ny RM1 izay nivoaka teo amin’ny arabe no tonga dia nanondro basy AHY no sady niteny hoe:
Miala any ny mpanaogazety, Tsy mila mpanao gazety eto. Miala sao tifiriko eo an.

Tsy nahita izay hatao aho no sady nanangana fotsiny ny karatra niantona tety ambozoko. Eo ambony Scooter aho amin’io raha mandeha an-tongotra kosa ny maro tamin’ireo mpanao gazety sy mpaka sary maro namana teny an-kianja mafana teny. Rehefa hitany fa tsy nihetsika aho no sady mbola nanangana ny karatra tety an-tanako, dia vao mainka niakatra ny feon’ilay ranamana. Tsy haiko na mpifehy ao amin’io toby io ilay zalahy iny, na iza. Fa ny fihetsika nataony aloha no niarahana nahita.

Nisy tamin’ireo mpanao gazety sasany no nihiaka niteny azy nanontany hoe :

Fa hatramin’ny oviana ny mpanao gazety no tsy mahazo maka sary sy manao ny asany. Sa efa niova indray koa ny lalàna?

Namaly ranamana no sady efa nikendry ny lohako. Ny elanelan’ny trotoir roa no manasaraka anay amin’io fotoana io. Hoy indrindra izy:

Rehefa hoe tsy mila mpanao gazety eto dia tsy mila, miala hoy aho sao tifiriko eo. Tifiriko ialahy an!’

Fahatsiarovana sady tsara no ratsy ho ahy iny ry zalahy namana. Kanefa tsy mba voatahiriko an-tsary, fa dia ny nanodina ny Scooter sy ny nidina ambanimbany namonjy ireo mpanao gazety sy mpaka sary sasany no nataoko sisa.

Koa miangavy anareo izay nahazo sary an’iny ’scène’ iny aho, tena miangavy. Mba omeo sary hotehiriziko, na farafaharatsiny, mba omeo rohy hahafahako mijery azy.

Enga anie ka ho anatra ho an’ireo miaramila rehetra ny namoahako ity lahatsoratro ity, fa aleo hivoaka ny marina sy ny nisy. Izay rahateo no ezahako ijoroana hatrany amin’ity GazetyAdaladala ity. “

“What happened was astonishing because completely unexpected : one of the soldiers of the RM1 (Note of the author : the name of a military barrack) who were on the streets pointed his weapon at ME and said :
Journalists go away. We do not need journalists here. Go away or I will shoot!
I did not know what to do so I just showed him the card I carried around my neck. I was riding a scooter at the time while most of the journalists and photographers were on foot. When he saw that I did not move but was instead showing my card, he raised his voice even more. I do not know if he was in charge of the barrack or who he was. But everybody saw his actions.
Some of the journalists dared to ask him :
Since when are journalists not allowed to take pictures and do their job. Has the law changed?
He answered and aimed at my head. The sidewalk was the only distance standing between us. He said again :
“I said I do not need any journalists here, so leave or I will shoot. I will shoot you !”
This was a bittersweet moment for me, my friends. But I do not have it on film, as all I did was turn my scooter around and follow other journalists and photographers further down. So those of you who may have that scene on film, I ask of you, please do give me at least a link so that I may see. I hope my publishing this post will be a lesson for those soldiers, that everybody may know the truth and what happened. This is what I strive for on this GazetyAdaladala blog.”

mydago.com has a humorous take on this turn of events :

“Mais que peut internet contre des armes à feux ? Contre des lacrymogènes ? Contre des militaires en pick up et brodequins ? Et fusils ? Rien ! Mais absolument rien ! Alors quel est le problème ? Et puis Madagascar est une île. Laissez donc tranquille cette île. C’est bien une île. Il y a la mer autour. Et la prochaine terre est loin. Cà permet de tout cacher. Les violence, les excès, et tout. La dictature même. Les dictatures.

Mais aujourd’hui, plus rien ne va. Quand on fait un coup d’état, les militaires ne peuvent plus faire leur travail normalement comme avant. Les jeunes d’aujourd’hui sont intenables. Ils sont extrêmement ennuyeux !!! Ils prennent des photos et des vidéos. Ensuite ils les transmettent par internet à des sites. Qui ensuite les publient dans le monde entier. Ah, ils sont vraiment ennuyeux ces jeunes d’aujourd’hui. Il n’y a plus de valeurs. Ils ne respectent plus la force ! La force militaire !”

“But what can the Internet do against weapons? Against lacrymogens? Against soldiers in pickup trucks and boots? And rifles? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! So where is the problem? And Madagascar is an island. Leave the island in peace. It is an island. It is surrounded by sea. And the next land is far away. It lets you hide everything. Violence, excesses, anything. Even dictatorship. Dictatorships.
But today nothing goes. When one commits a putsch, soldiers cannot do their work normally anymore. The youth are not controllable. They are extremely annoying!!! They take pictures and videos. Then they upload these on internet sites. Which are then published worldwide. Ah, they are really annoying these youths. There are no more values. They do not respect might anymore. Military might!”

This post also appeared on Global Voices Advocacy

16 comments

  • Dan

    Air Force 1 (2) belongs to the government of Madagascar; it is not (was not) Ravalomanana’s private jet as you imply.

  • ok I stand corrected.

  • Tim

    “and the American ambassador bears witness to the events, as he was also threatened with weapons pointed at him ”

    Is there evidence of this? Where did this information come from?

    • Tim, yes there is ample evidence, especially the interview given by the ambassador himself. If you read French, read his interview here http://www.midi-madagasikara.mg/midi/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12549
      He says “« Je ne m’attendais pas à cela en venant ici. Ce fut une mauvaise surprise ». L’ambassadeur des Etats-Unis car ces propos sont de lui, ne s’attendait pas à ce qu’il a vécu mardi dernier à l’Episcopat Antanimena. SEM Niels Marquardt d’expliquer que « tout au long de cette semaine, on a vu des choses inacceptables en matière de Droits de l’Homme. Ce qui est arrivé au pasteur Lala Rasendrahasina ne devrait arriver à qui que ce soit. J’ai pu voir de mes propres yeux jusqu’à quel point on a eu recours à la force dans ce coup d’Etat. Moi-même, j’ai été menacé verbalement et avec des fusils. Ce n’est pas normal que les militaires d’un gouvernement menacent les diplomates accrédités dans le pays». ”

      The two last sentences can be translated into :
      “Myself, I have been threatened verbally and with weapons. It is not normal that soldiers of a government threaten accredited diplomats in the country.”

    • SJ

      Tim,

      I sense the skepticism of Voltaire in your post. A couple thoughts to consider.

      The threat suffered by the American Ambassador on March 17 at EKAR Antanimena in Madagascar has been well-document in image* and in the local French-language newspapers on the island.** You might wonder why you have not read about it in any newspaper of international recognition.

      First, the international English-language media outlets don’t have the time of day to cover events in Madagascar. When I communicated with the NYT staffer at the Jo’berg office who is covering the political crisis in Mada about any upcoming visits, to the island he told me he would visit before the end of April. One visit per month to cover a ‘regime change’ tells me that little will be covered.

      Second, some actions are louder than words. In mid-March, the US department of state removed all non-essential American diplomatic staff as well as all Peacecorp volunteers from the island.***

      Third, the international French-language media outlets (TV5 Monde, RFI, and France 24) are under the direction of the French gov’t which is actively supporting Rajoelina. The Chief Exe who oversees RFI and France 24 is the wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the French gov’t.**** If Rajoalina is sleeping at the home of the French Ambassador in Tana,***** and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sleeping with…

      Well, I am going to let you connect the dots.

      *http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrgjZN3lrxk
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl0_MG1Yz_I&feature=related

      **http://www.les-nouvelles.com/default.php?file=article&mode=detail2&id=44226

      ***http://www.state.gov/p/af/ci/ma/c27999.htm
      http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.media.press.view&news_id=1437

      ****http://www.lepoint.fr/actualites-medias/christine-ockrent-prend-les-renes-de-france-24/1253/0/316870

      *****https://pastel.diplomatie.gouv.fr/editorial/actual/ael2/pointpresse.asp?liste=20090310.html&submit.x=7&submit.y=15

  • John

    Thanks, Mialy for these updates. It’s great to have some updates from someone who’s actually in Madagascar, as there’s not much coverage of this in the mainstream press, and lots of the reports seem to get their facts mixed up!

  • >Tim:

    Here is the quote from US Amabassador Niels Marquardt as quoted in national newspaper Midi Madagasikara:
    “J’ai pu voir de mes propres yeux jusqu’à quel point on a eu recours à la force dans ce coup d’Etat. Moi-même, j’ai été menacé verbalement et avec des fusils. Ce n’est pas normal que les militaires d’un gouvernement menacent les diplomates accrédités dans le pays.”
    http://www.midi-madagasikara.mg/midi/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12549

    That recollection of the event was confirmed by the head of the army faction Charles Randrianasoavina Charles himself who stated the threats that day in the newspaper Madagascar-Tribune : ” je ne vous laisserai pas sortir de cette salle tant que le pouvoir ne sera pas confié à Monsieur Andry Rajoelina. Quand bien même il y aurait des morts ici et aujourd’hui, quand bien même il y aurait tuerie.”

    http://www.madagascar-tribune.com/Les-revelations-du-Cdt,11456.html

  • FeoIray

    Dear Mialy,
    Thank you! Thank you for this article!

    Since you got your name quit established now, isn’t it possible for you to contact “Reporter Sans Frontieres” at http://www.rsf.org?
    At a time, RSF where quite prompt to condemn what they considered as threats agains malagasy journalists.
    But how about this time?
    How about the threat against Midi Madagasikara after March 17, 2009? (I will provide later on the date)
    And what you just wrote in this article!

    Strangely, RSF’s report on Madagascar stopped on March 13, 2009.
    Please visit this web site, h ttp://www.rsf.org/une_pays-23.php3?id_mot=26

  • […] Madagascar: Security forces harass bloggers and twitterers Mialy Andriamananjara Global Voices: April 2, […]

  • I like they way mydago.com sees it lol “Bad youths!!!” lol. I still have friends who don’t want to publish their photos for fear of arrest. They said they’d prefered to wait for the situation to calm down.

  • john bogen

    A few questions:

    ~ Why do individuals and the press call the new dictator the President of Madagascar? Isn’t a ‘President’ by definition duly elected by the people?

    ~ Does anyone know where to find out where the new dictator got his money in the first place? To start a radio station? A TV station?

    ~ Has any other ambassador to Madagascar met with and shaken hands with the new dictator with the exception of the French?

    ~ Despite the fact that the new dictator is not old If an election were held in 10 days between the dictator and the deposed President who would win?

    thks
    john

  • Ben

    Misaotra betsika Mialy! Great post, as always. :)

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