Church Bodies Voice Concern for Detained Madagascar Christians

The leaders of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Council for World Mission (CWM) are sounding off against the recent raid on a church-supported radio station and the subsequent detainment of eight radio journalists and technicians.

"We support the prophetic voices seeking to bring justice and reconciliation in Madagascar today," expressed WARC President Clifton Kirkpatrick and WARC General Secretary Setri Nyomi in a message sent to churches in 107 countries.

"These journalists must be given full protection while under arrest and allowed a fair and free hearing," added Nyomi.

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According to reports, three journalists at Radio Fahazavana were arrested on the night of May 20 by Madagascar's Highest Transitional Authority (HAT). Their five colleagues were detained shortly thereafter by the Central Service for Criminal Affairs unit.

Together, the eight were accused of endangering the internal security of the state and playing a part in that night's failed mutiny in Madagascar's capital through their alleged incitement of the public.

Furthermore, Communications Minister Augustin Andriamananoro said the detained individuals failed to conform to journalism professional standards and had broadcast false information.

Supporters, however, say the station was just reporting the facts and that the journalists were well versed in media ethics.

"We have worked with these journalists for a long time," testified Michel Kocher, director of Swiss Protestant media agency Médias-pro, and Jacques Küng, general secretary of Swiss church mission group DM-Echange et Mission, in a letter to Madagascar's ambassador to Switzerland. "We have offered several months of training including a course in media ethics."

CWM General Secretary Des van der Water, meanwhile, called the actions against the radio journalists "unfair and unjust."

"We join with our friends from WARC in condemning this unfair and unjust action against the radio journalists. FJKM are a valued member of both WARC and CWM and we call for the immediate release of the journalists and a safe return to their families," he wrote.

"Above all, we pray for a peaceful solution to this current round of violence and that a common sense of humanity will prevail for the welfare of all Madagascans," the church leader added.

Since the May 20 raid, Radio Fahazavana has stopped broadcasting and the press has been told that station was temporarily shut down for inciting the public.

Government spokesman Andriamananoro claimed that there was an overwhelming number of other reasons behind the arrests of the eight and the shutdown of the station.

Critics, however, accuse the government of curtailing freedom of expression.

Reports have identified the eight detainees as Josiane Ranaivo, Solomon Ratsimba, Jaona Olivier, Tiburce Soavinarivo, Philémon Raveloarison, Tiana Maharavo, Andry Randrianasolo and Tsivoho Rakotoson.

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