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Press freedom threatened following state of emergeny declaration and attacks on private radio stations

(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to President Didier Ratsiraka, RSF expressed its concern following the declaration of a state of emergency, citing its possible effect on press freedom in the country. "The legitimate search for a return to calm should not translate into a calling into question of press freedom in the country. The authorities must pay particular attention to ensuring that information pluralism is respected," noted Robert Ménard, the organisation's secretary-general. "In addition, there have been a number of recent attacks on journalists and private media outlets. The head of state must consult with the relevant authorities in order to ensure that media professionals can continue to work securely during this crisis period," the secretary-general added.

According to information collected by RSF, President Ratsiraka declared a state of emergency on 22 February 2002, after opposition figure Marc Ravalomanana declared himself president. The measure gives the head of state total control over news broadcasts and enables him to limit freedom of expression.

In addition, during the night of 23 February, about ten masked men attacked the offices of Ravalomanana Madagascar Broadcasting Service's (MBS) radio station in Fianarantsoa (300 km south of the capital, Antananarivo). The offices were set on fire and three night watchmen were seriously injured in the attack. In the past few days, unidentified individuals have reportedly also attempted to forcibly enter the MBS station in Antsirabe (150 km south of the capital). "We have locked ourselves inside the station offices for the past three days as we fear for our safety," the radio station's editor-in-chief told a Madagascan daily.

On 20 February, striking secondary school students ransacked and threw stones at the offices of the Amoron'i Mania Radio-Television (Art) station in Ambositra les Roses (south of Antsirabe). The students were protesting the station's coverage of events, which they considered to be overly-partisan. The station is owned by the prime minister. Three days earlier, an MBS crew was attacked in Brickaville (east of the capital) by supporters of President Ratsiraka. On 2 February, Lieutenant-Colonel Coutiti, the information minister's technical adviser, confiscated the private FM 91 radio station's equipment in Nosy Be (an island in the country's northern region) and closed the station. FM 91 is owned by a provincial councillor who supports Ravalomanana.

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