Reprisals against activists documented in Madagascar
This Monitor update covers developments relating to the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Madagascar from 2018 to March 2023.
Madagascar is rated - partly free - according to Freedom House's most recent Freedom in the World 2023 report. The country will hold presidential elections in 2023 at a date still to be determined. In 2018, former mayor Andry Rajoelina won the second round of the election and will likely campaign for a second five-year term this year.
In the past several years, the country has experienced severe drought, especially in the south, and other effects of climate change, creating a level of instability in governance and threatening the rights of its population, while bringing approximately one million people to the brink of starvation due to famine.
Frontline Defenders has documented reprisals against activists in the country, particularly against those working on sensitive and controversial issues and those who are critical of the authorities.
- On 10th May 2022, human rights defender Jeannot Randriamanana with Observatoire Indépendant des Droits Économiques, Sociaux et Culturels à Madagascar - a NGO focusing on social, cultural, and economic rights - was granted provisional release after being sentenced to two years in prison on 17th March 2022. He was charged with calling for accountability in how humanitarian aid was being managed in the country after a cyclone hit. On 12th July 2022, the Court of Appeal of Fianarantsoa upheld his conviction and two-year suspended sentence.
- On 30th January 2021, human rights defender Ralibera Andriamaholy Jerisoa - focusing on labour rights - was arrested, without a warrant, for the organisation of a meeting planned that day. He was released several hours later but allegedly experienced threats from unidentified persons following the arrest.
- On 24th August 2019, human rights defender Mbolatiana Raveloarimsa was threatened on her Twitter account after she published an article in the newspaper L’Express de Madagascar which focused on issues of poverty and the lack of good governance in the country.
On 28th August 2022, Anosy Court in Antananarivo sentenced trade unionist Sento Chang to 12 months in prison for a social media post on the union talks with a textile and garment manufacturer, where he worked. On 13th October, trade unions demanded his unconditional release, stating that:
“Sento is a victim of moral harassment whose rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association are being violated as well as his rights as a trade union representative”.
Madagascar's political parties remain marginalised, with little room for political pluralism and organising as opposition parties must obtain government permission to hold rallies and meetings, which is rarely granted.
#Madagascar #unions are calling for the release of a jailed #tradeunionist. Sento Chang was imprisoned on charges of "agitating workers" after posting on social media about union discussions with a textile and garment manufacturer. @IndustriALL_GU https://t.co/kymcWiuC2D— Solidarity Center (@SolidarityCntr) October 17, 2022
During the COVID-19 pandemic period from 2020 to 2021, the authorities were criticised for suppressing critical voices, namely journalists and media outlets reporting on the pandemic. For example, on 4th April 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on the detention of journalist Helisoa, the director of the privately-owned newspaper Ny Valosoa (The Reward). The journalist had criticised the government response to COVID, thereby allegedly violating Article 91 of the penal code on spreading false news and inciting hatred toward President Andry Rajoelina. In addition, criminal libel laws have been used to target journalists investigating sensitive and controversial topics. The country's cybercrimes law, which refers to defamation and false information, has also been used to target criticism on social media.
Reporters Without Borders - RSF - characterises Madagascar's media landscape as “highly polarised and lacking in independence,” with the country ranking 98 out of 180 in RSFs most recent index for 2022.
As human rights activists, we don't always have reasons to celebrate. But today is definitely a good day, as #Madagascar journalist Arphine Helisoa was released from pre-trial detention, after exactly a month! 😄👏She was accused of being critical of the govt's COVID-19 response pic.twitter.com/BLxzS1ywGQ— Tamara de Froberville (@TamaraLegr) May 4, 2020
Protests were heavily restricted during the pandemic - 2020 to 2021 - and though freedom of peaceful assembly is protected under law, officials authorise protests at their discretion and police are known to use excessive force, including live ammunition on demonstrators. Several examples of protests from 2020 to 2022 are detailed below, including the authorities and police response to the demonstrations:
- On 30th August 2022, police fired on a protest taking place over the kidnapping of an albino child; at least 18 people were killed and 30 injured in the shooting, as approximately 500 protesters, some allegedly with weapons, attempted to force their way into the police station to demand an investigation into the kidnapping.
- On 23rd July 2022, in Antananarivo, a protest organised by the opposition over the rising cost of living was disrupted by police who closed off the area for the planned protest and detained two members of the main opposition party. The protest was reportedly authorised but demonstrators were still prevented from holding the action.
- In July 2022, young people held several protests calling for accountability and transparency. The peaceful demonstrations took place without disruption from the police or authorities.
- In June 2020, anti-lockdown protests over the government response to the coronavirus led to clashes between police and protesters, as demonstrators threw rocks and police used rubber bullets.