The government didn’t trust the independent press. Four journalists were arrested in 2003. One of them spent two months in prison for criticising the functioning of the justice system.
The authorities were quick to react whenever a journalist interviewed a government opponent or reported civil society demands. The spectre of a coup haunts Col. Azali’s government and it cracked down hard on any press reports it saw as a possible threat to public order and stability.
The Comoran press has its ups and downs. New newspapers are created while others fold in response to constant political turmoil and a still erratic economy. A privately-owned daily closed in 2003 but a new independent press agency began putting out news reports.
The state news media muddled along, thanks to government subsidies and donations from foreign aid programmes. The latest was China’s gift of new studios to Radio Comores in April.
Three journalists imprisoned
Abdou Djibaba, the manager of Radio Ngazidja, the official regional station on the island of Grand Comore, and Ali Mselem, the station’s editor, were arrested in Moroni on 1 August 2003, two days after broadcasting an editorial criticising the work of some judges. Djibaba was given provisional release after 48 hours in custody, but had to report to a judge each week. Mselem, who wrote the editorial, was charged with contempt of court and was held for two months. Thereafter, he remained under court control.
Morad Ait-Habbouche, a French journalist on assignment for the TV channel Canal Plus, was arrested in his hotel in Moroni on 22 September and was taken to the headquarters of the gendarmerie. When lawyer and government opponent Said Larifou went to the gendarmerie a few hours later to enquire about Ait-Habbouche, he was also detained. Both were charged the next day with "attempted coup d’etat." Ait-Habbouche was released on 27 September and left on a plane to France. Larifou was freed a few weeks later.
A journalist detained
Antufati Soidri, the weekly Al-Watwan’s correspondent on the island of Moheli, spent several hours in the gendarmerie on 2 October 2003 on the orders of the prosecutor of the town of Fomboni. Soidri had accused the prosecutor of violating "the freedom of expression recognised by the constitution" when he arrested a singer for complaining of "embezzlement going on in the courts."