A series of unfortunate decisions taken by the Andry TGV Rajoelina, High Authority for the Transition (HAT) government, is seriously threatening freedom of speech in Madagascar.
First, there was the arrest of three demonstrators, most famously, “Razily“, the young man seen bearing a flag in this amateur video, before being thrown into a pick up truck and callously beaten by soldiers.
As a reader comments on Madagascar Tribune online :
“Mais quel symbole !!!. Un homme seul qui brandi fièrement le drapeau de son pays arrêté sans ménagement par des militaires sensés justement défendre les couleurs de ce drapeau. Lui même jeté dans le fourgon !!!.”
We still do not know for sure what happened to Razily, but he is hailed a hero by Malagasy internet users. Malagasy mainstream media seem not to have followed up with his fate. Malagasy social media users, like Solofo Rafeno, on his twitter account and his blog are orchestrating a campaign to demand that the HAT government free Razily and the other two men who were with him. Solofo also demands to know the whereabouts of a pro-Ravalomanana journalist who has been reported missing since the grab of power.
A petition now circulates on Facebook for those demanding Razily's freedom.
Mydago.com reports the closure of the two stations :
“Pendant le jour du Seigneur du 19 avril, la Radio Chrétienne Fahazavana (Lumière) ainsi que Radio Mada et TV Mada ont été détruits par les militaires mutins du Capsat. Il faut reconnaître que ces organes d’informations ont depuis quelques jours gêné, voire irrité le nouveau régime issu du coup d’état de Madagascar. Nous pouvons nous souvenir que déjà depuis quelques jours, par exemple nous avions eu vent de plaintes de brouillage sur Radio Mada. Par ailleurs, d’autres informations ont confirmé que des pressions s’exercent sur les journalistes de la Radio et la télévision nationales (Radio et TVM).”
It is ironic to recall that back in December 2008, it was Andry TGV Rajoelina's VIVA TV station which was forced to close by Marc Ravalomanana, for broadcasting a speech by former President Ratsiraka where the latter harshly criticized Ravalomanana and incited the Malagasy people to revolt.
Fijery notices the similarity :
“Dimanche dernier, au milieu de toute la splendeur de leur clairvoyance, Andry Rajoelina et Gilbert Raharizatovo ont fait un copier-coller de la décision ridicule de réduire Viva TV au silence, et ont tenté de fermer Radio-Mada et Radio Fahazavana.”
After his nemesis, Ravalomanana, closed down VIVA TV, Andry TGV organized protests in the streets to demand the reopening of the television station, touted his outrage at this blatant disrespect of freedom of speech and democracy, and branded Ravalomanana a “dictator”. Global Voices has a special section on the crisis.
Yet not even six months later, after Andry TGV successfully grabbed power with the help of mutineers, and proclaimed that freedom is won and dictatorship vanquished, Andry TGV's sbires are now the ones threatening radio and TV stations with closures, intimidating journalists and bloggers, forbidding public protests and shooting at protesters, all under the pretext of preserving law and order and public safety, a surprising concern for a government that not even two months ago, has itself used street protests, intimidation and general thuggery to rise to power.
Due to the violence and the threats, shops and factories were forced to permanently shut down, their employees were dismissed, the $350 million a year once promising touristic industry tanked, hotels are now staying empty. The HAT government has proposed that entry visas, which once cost 60 euros to obtain, are now to be offered for free in a desperate measure to revive tourism.
The HAT government, which professed last month that elections were not needed because the people had already spoken through the streets, then proceeded to forbid all public rallies. As reports The Cyber Observer:
“Today (Tuesday April 21st, 2009), the HAT prime minister Monja Roindefo led a special council at the state palace of Iavoloha.
It has been decided that, starting from tomorrow (Wednesday April 22nd, 2009), all political rallies throughout Madagascar, are forbidden until further notice.
In order to maintain the public order (bear in mind that when Andry Rajoelina came to power, he proclaimed state of emergency throughout Madagascar), the state has the right to make such decision. But in the other hand, due to the fact that there is a daily and massive growing wave of public contestation throughout Madagascar, is it really wise to impose such a ban?”
On Monday April 20 and again on Thursday April 23, there were massive crowds in Antananarivo, protesting the shut down of the pro-Ravalomanana radio stations. Unfortunately the Rajoelina government copied Ravalomanana's methods and ruthlessly repressed the protests, showing in the process that Ravalomanana the “dictator” may be gone, but his replacement, Andry TGV Rajoelina is not fulfilling his promise to bring freedom and democracy to Madagascar. One of the reproaches Andry TGV Rajoelina's supporters made to Ravalomanana was the use of armed civilians mingled with soldiers during protests repressions. Yet again, civilians were seen carrying weapons alongside soldiers, and some were even seen giving soldiers orders, when together they shot at protesters without warning, and according to some accounts, used deadly bullets.
“The BBC's Jonny Hogg in the city saw at least one person shot in the back at close range, and said cars were set on fire close to government buildings. “
“Radio Madagascar said numerous casualties were being taken to the Antananarivo's main hospital. There was no immediate confirmation of the report nor official word about injuries or deaths.”
“An AP reporter saw roaming gangs erecting barricades and burning cars in the capital, with the worst unrest concentrated near a downtown square that has become the focal point for protests.
Supporters of ousted President Marc Ravalomanana had defied a ban on demonstrations issued by Madagascar's military-backed leader Andry Rajeolina following repeated clashes.”
Soldiers then wanted to invade HJRA, Hopital Ravoahangy Andrianavalona, the hospital where the wounded were taken -to what end one cannot help but wonder- but the protesters managed to stop them.
The Cyber Observer offers a suggestion as to why the soldiers wanted to storm the hospital:
“According to some eye-witnesses, 02 people were killed by security forces in Anosy. This information has been confirmed later by Fahazavana radio (this radio is back on air since today at 01.30pm Madagascar time – we do not know yet where its current location is and if it has been allowed by the ministry of telecommunication to broadcast again). The bodies of these 02 people are now at the HJRA hospital in Andrefan’Ambohijanahary.
According to another eye-witness, there were militaries who came to HJRA hospital to take the bodies of these 02 people. They were heavily armed. People around the premises of HJRA hospital did not allow them to do so. Now at the time I am typing this post, Fahazavana radio is calling people to go to Andrefan’Ambohijanahary to protect HJRA hospital”
Back in February, on Red saturday, Ando Ratovonirina, one cameraman of the television station RTA was killed in the line of action by the soldiers of the then embattled Marc Ravalomanana. Two months later, this time again, a professional journalist of the same television station, Razafindraibe, was killed by Andry TGV Rajoelina's government, also in the line of action.
Freedom of speech still evades Madagascar. Fijery writes a sober analysis of the lack of impact of journalism on Malagasy life :
“…qu’est-ce qu’une vie de journaliste dans un pays ou même la sacro-sainte Constitution n’est pas respectée ? La presse a déja payé un lourd tribut dans cette crise, avec deux décès et plusieurs agressions. Et vu le faible niveau de respectabilité de la pratique politique et des politiciens dans notre pays, il est inutile pour les journalistes Malgaches d’adopter littéralement la devise de Jean-Jacques Rousseau : Vitam impendere vero.”