(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to President France Albert René, RSF protested the harassment of the country's only independent newspaper. "Tourists visiting the Seychelles should know that the 'world's most beautiful beach' hides one of the Indian Ocean's most repressive regimes for press freedom," stated RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "The only newspaper that refuses to submit to institutionalised censorship has been sentenced to pay three million euros in damages to the president and his entourage. For a newspaper that only publishes 3,000 copies, this is equivalent to a death certificate," Ménard added. RSF called for the annulment of the sentence, which is bankrupting the newspaper.
According to information obtained by RSF, in February 2002, the private weekly "Regar" was found guilty of "libel" and sentenced to pay Vice President James Michel 500,000 euros (approx. US$441,465) in damages. In November 2001, the newspaper published an article about the vice president's purchase, at a very low price, of a luxury home built at Sans Souci (Mahé Island) with government funds. This sentence, the latest of many, raises the total amount of damages the newspaper has to pay for "libel", or disrespecting the president and other high officials, to three million euros (approx. US$2,648,000).
Press freedom is guaranteed in the Seychelles' third constitution, but is limited, in order "to protect the reputation, rights and liberties of people's privacy", in the "interest of the defence, public security, public morality and health".
In addition, the state has a de facto monopoly on all of the country's audiovisual media. The only television channel is public, and licence fees for radio stations are so high that it is almost impossible to create a private station. In September 1998, members of parliament from the ruling party, the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF), opposed a bill proposed by the opposition that included provisions for a reduction in licence fees.