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Opposition radio station closed

(RSF/IFEX) - On 28 June 2004, Communications Minister Clermont Gervais Mahazaka ordered the closure of Radio Say for "broadcasting false news, defamation and insults against the speaker of the National Assembly and a member of the government, and breach of operating terms and
conditions".

Located in Tulear, a coastal city in southern Madagascar, Radio Say was ordered to cease broadcasting following a visit to the city by a government delegation. The delegation had come to investigate a grenade attack that took place on 25 June, during independence day celebrations, in which one person was killed and about 30 others injured.

Mahazaka ordered Radio Say closed until further notice, despite the fact that no link has been made between the attack and the station's activities. The minister did not provide any evidence to support the closure.

Radio Say is a private radio station known for its independent editorial stance. It is owned by a former minister who is an associate of Didier Ratsiraka, who governed Madagascar from 1975 to 1993 and again from 1995 to 2002. Ratsiraka was defeated in the last elections, losing to current head of state Marc Ravalomanana following several months of turmoil in the country.

The closure of Radio Say is not an isolated act. Since Mahazaka's appointment as communications minister at the beginning of 2004, there have been several recorded attacks on freedom of information. Private media outlets in the country have not previously faced such harassment or restrictions in carrying out their work.

In February, Radio Sava was also ordered closed. The station's owner is Pety Rakotoniaina, mayor of Fianarantsoa and a former supporter of Ravalomanana who has since joined the opposition. Radio Sava has yet to resume its activities.

In addition, the daily "La Gazette de la Grande Ile" received an official warning from Minister Mahazaka after it published a statement by National Assembly Speaker Jean Lahiniriko announcing the death of one of the victims of the Tulear attack.

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