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-  Surface area: 2,170 sq. km
-  Population: 706,000
-  Language: Comorian, French
-  Type of State: federal republic

Comoros - Annual report 2002

Once again, in 2001, independent journalists on the archipelago were victims of repression by Colonel Azali Assoumani, in power since 1999. On Anjouan island the situation is very worrying.

The political and economic context on the Comoros is hardly favourable to the development of a free and independent press. The authorities keep a close watch on journalists’ work and grasp the slightest opportunity to arrest and sentence the most critical voices. The media are also suffocated financially by the lack of buying power and the scarcity of advertising.

On 22 September, in an attempt to regulate the press, the state prosecutor sent Comoran newspapers a memorandum announcing the establishment of a system of "prior registration" of publications before they are put on sale.

In Anjouan, which unilaterally declared its independence in 1997, there were three coups d’état or attempted coups during the year. The rare media on the island try to survive despite very tight control by the local authorities, and financial sources have dwindled to next to nothing. On 27 August the Anjouan public radio station was closed for several hours during an abortive coup fomented by about 20 soldiers of the presidential guard, opposed to the island’s independence.

Two journalists jailed

On 1 January 2002 at least one journalist was behind bars in the Comoros.

On 10 November 2001, Izdine Abdou Salam, manager of the privately-owned radio station Radio Karthala, was arrested by the Moroni gendarmerie. Two days later he was placed under a committal order by the prosecutor and accused of "libel". His arrest followed the broadcast of a debate on Radio Karthala on the new draft constitution put to a referendum on 23 December 2001. Several speakers had severely criticised the draft constitution on the air. Tapes of the programme were confiscated by the gendarmerie. Izdine Abdou Salam had already been sentenced for "libel" against the prime minister and the court had prohibited him from presenting his political programmes.

Cheikh Ali Cassim, manager of the privately-owned radio station Tropic FM and former member of parliament, was sentenced on 14 June 2001 to four years in jail, with 14 months effectively served, for "illicit ownership of weapons". The journalist, jailed on Moroni on 15 August 2000, was released on 11 October 2001. Tropic FM continued its broadcasts during his detention.

Two journalists arrested

On the morning of 2 August 2001, Allaoui Saïd Omar, managing editor of La Gazette des Comoros, and Omar Badaoui, journalist for the same publication, went to the Moroni gendarmerie after receiving a summons. The two men were immediately detained and spent the night in a cell. They were accused of publishing a story headed "Trafficking in forged notes: members of the Colonel’s cabinet allegedly involved". The article specified that "the general secretary of the presidency, Mr. Mahamoud, known as Lamartine, should soon be summoned by the police". The Mr. Mahamoud in question immediately sent a letter to the newspaper, indicating that he had laid charges against it for "libel". The two journalists were released on parole the next day, pending trial. The first hearing took place in the Moroni court on 4 October. The presiding judge refused to allow the advocate of La Gazette des Comores to plead.

The managing editor of the weekly decided not to attend the hearing. The two journalists were given a six-month suspended jail sentence and fined 50,000 Comoran francs (about 100 euros). Allaoui Saïd Omar was also one of the founding members of the ACDH, the Comoran human rights association.

Pressure and obstruction

On 15 March 2001, during the first hearing in a trial between Allaoui Saïd Omar, managing editor of La Gazette des Comores, and the president of the Shawiri party (close to the ruling party), Mahamoud Mradabi, the journalist’s advocate from Reunion, Said Larifou, was expelled from the courtroom and held in custody at the capital’s gendarmerie. "The president refused my plea in a press offence affair [...] When I insisted he ordered my expulsion" wrote Advocate Larifou a few days later in a letter to the president of the Saint-Pierre Bar in Reunion. The lawyer was released at the end of the day without any explanation. Allaoui Saïd Omar was sued in the Moroni magistrate’s court by Mahamoud Mradabi who demanded ten million Comoran francs (about 20,000 euros) in damages. On 8 March the journalist had published a communiqué by the United Comoran Opposition in Paris, asking for Mr. Mradabi to be "referred to the competent authorities" for his involvement in assumed embezzlement. The communiqué added that: "Working with the mercenaries, Mradabi is also for secession. During the 9 March 1999 demonstration [...] he revealed his real intentions which can be summarised as follows: violence, hatred, racism and defence of personal interests". On 19 April the complaint was withdrawn after an out-of-court settlement between the two parties’ advocates.

On 5 September the communication minister announced the dismissal of Ahmed Ali Amir, journalist with the government weekly Al-Watwan, accused of sympathies with the opposition. A few days earlier the journalist had written an article on "the state of the reconciliation process" in the Comoros which had strongly displeased the military authorities.

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see also
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Asia annual report 2002
Americas annual report 2002
Europe annual report 2002
Maghreb / Middle-East annual report 2002