Newspaper offices besieged by angry supporters of prime minister

New York, September 7, 2000 — An irate crowd of some three dozen people calling themselves agents of Mauritian prime minister Navin Ramgoolam’s Labor Party staged a loud demonstration in front of the offices of Le Mauricien and L’express, the island’s leading independent dailies.

Wielding sticks and shouting slogans, the protesters railed against what they called the two newspapers’ bias against Prime Minister Ramgoolam. The prime minister is seeking reelection in Monday’s general elections, a vote observers say he is unlikely to win. On September 6, Le Mauricien and L’express both reported that Ramgoolam had been booed the previous day by a crowd of disgruntled Labor Party sympathizers in his home constituency of Pamplemousse, a small town ten miles outside the capital of Port Louis.

“This is a particularly disturbing incident in a country known for its excellent press freedom record,” said Yves Sorokobi, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.

Mauritian journalists contacted by CPJ suspect the rally was organized by the government. The demonstrators arrived in a parade of taxicabs, along with television news crews from the official Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). No injuries or material damage were reported during the demonstration.

“We love our Prime Minister Ramgoolam!” the crowd chanted while hurling slurs at the editors of the two dailies, Gilbert Ahnee of Le Mauritien and Jean Claude de L’Estrac of L’express.

“If journalists are not free to cover the activities of the various parties without fear of reprisals, then the people of Mauritius will not be able to make informed choices at the ballot box,” Sorokobi added. “We urge Mauritian authorities to ensure the safety of all journalists covering these elections.”