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Newspaper director, journalist given one-month prison sentence in defamation case

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is an 11 May 2005 WAN letter to Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana:

His Excellency President Marc Ravalomanana

11 May 2005

Your Excellency,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 100 countries, to express our serious concern at the sentencing of journalists Rolan Rasoamaharo and James Ramarosoana to one month in jail for defamation.

According to reports, on 19 April Mr Rasoamaharo, director of La Gazette de la Grande Ile, and Mr Ramarosoana, author of the article, were sentenced to one month in prison after publishing an audit report on state-owned real estate company SEIMAD. Similar charges were brought but dropped against the director of the Madagascar Tribune. Mr Rasoamaharo and Mr Ramarosoana are to appeal their sentences.

We are concerned at what appears to be a campaign of intimidation against La Gazette de la Grande Ile. In recent months, several journalists and executives working for La Gazette de la Grande Ile have been sentenced to jail or fined for defamation and other charges relating to their journalistic activities.

We respectfully remind you that the criminal law is a wholly inappropriate means of dealing with the issue of defamation and that jailing Mr Rasoamaharo and Mr Ramarosoana for such offences contravenes a number of international agreements. We believe that a civil award of reasonable damages is adequate and appropriate relief in all proven cases of defamation.

We respectfully call on you to do everything in your power to ensure that the jail sentences against Mr Rasoamaharo and Mr Ramarosoana are overturned and that all criminal charges against them are dropped. We urge your government to reconsider the communications law that was presented to parliament last week and to do everything possible to ensure that defamation is decriminalised in your country.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O?Reilly
Acting President
World Association of Newspapers

George Brock
World Editors Forum

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