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Journalists jailed pending trial, radio station closed

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is disturbed to learn that 10 Radio Fahazavana employees, including six journalists, were placed in pre-trial detention in a prison in the capital on 27 May 2010, on charges of threatening state security and inciting revolt. The workers had been held in police custody since a 20 May raid on the station, which has now been closed.

"Radio Fahazavana's employees have the right to a trial as soon as possible, one that is fair and not subject to political pressure," Reporters Without Borders said, calling for them to be released provisionally until the trial takes place.

"If cases involving the media are reaching the point where a radio station is forcibly closed and its journalists are imprisoned, it is largely because Madagascar has no media regulatory body that is functional and effective," the press freedom organisation added.

Soldiers carried out the raid on Radio Fahazavana on government orders on the evening of 20 May, confiscating broadcasting equipment and transmitters and arresting two technicians and two security guards, as well as the six journalists. The authorities have ordered the station closed for good.

Officials claimed that Radio Fahazavana was using pirate transmitters and had violated the terms of its licence by changing its address without prior permission. The station belongs to FJKM, a protestant church that supports deposed President Marc Ravalomanana. The authorities also accused it of inciting the population to rebel on 20 May, when soldiers loyal to the current president, Andry Rajoelina, clashed with rebel elements within the National Gendarmerie Intervention Force (FIGN).

After being held for a week at the headquarters of the criminal investigation department, the station's 10 employees were transferred to Antanimora prison in the capital, Antananarivo, on 27 May. The first two of the three charges originally brought against them have been dropped. But they are still accused of "non-respect for journalistic ethics resulting in a threat to state security and incitement of violence and rebellion."

The Radio Fahazavana employees staged a protest hunger strike while in police custody.

The head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk visited Radio Fahazavana and met senior staff members during a trip to Madagascar from 15 to 19 March.

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