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Seychelles9 December 2004

Heavy fine for ignoring court’s gag order could sink sole opposition newspaper

A heavy fine imposed in a hearing today on the weekly Regar for ignoring a supreme court order not to publish an internal letter by three judges was excessive and could wipe out what is the Seychelles’ only independent newspaper, Reporters Without Borders said.

The press freedom organisation said it was "absurd" that the fine was decided by judges who were the reason for the case against Regar, and it was a "complete aberration" that one of the same judges would also hear the newspaper’s appeal against the fine, which was set at 40,000 rupees (about 5,800 euros).

"The only really just solution is for the judicial authorities to abandon their prosecution against Regar and let the only opposition newspaper do its work in peace," Reporters Without Borders said. "We call on all of the Seychelles’ political and economic partners to use all their influence to calm things down."

Regar received an injunction from the supreme court on 27 October ordering it not to publish "in whole or in part" an internal letter written by three supreme court judges complaining about a court registrar’s insubordination. The order - signed by Judge Bernardin Renaud, one of the letter’s three signatories - said publication of the letter would prejudice the functioning of the judicial system.

Regar editor Roger Mancienne refused to comply because he considered the letter to be "valid, relevant and of public interest." Regar ran it the next day, alongside the supreme court order and a chronology of the case, pointing out that the letter confirmed the criticism its journalists had already made about the court registrar concerned. As a result, Mancienne was found in contempt of court.

This is not the first time that Regar has been prosecuted or had a run-in with the authorities. It is one of the most influential news outlets in a country with mostly spineless media. The state press just relays official statements and carries no criticism of the government.

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