Attacks on the Press 2000: Comoros

INSTABILITY PLAGUED THE THREE-ISLAND ISLAMIC REPUBLIC after the military government of Col. Azali Assoumani tried unsuccessfully to reintegrate the island of Anjouan, which had seceded from the federation in 1997.

There were several attacks on journalists after a January referendum in which Anjouan rejected a settlement brokered by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Violent crackdowns on the political opposition and the media were also reported from Grand Comore and the country’s third island, Moheli.

Mohamed Boudari, a reporter with the state-owned weekly Al-Watan, was kidnapped by Anjouan separatists on January 3 and held for four days, presumably because of his government affiliation. Al-Watan editor Mohamed Hassane was held for several hours before being released. On March 29 Mohamed Yssouf, special correspondent for the French radio network Réseau France Outre-Mer, was arrested while covering municipal elections on the island. Yssouf was freed several days later, according to local journalists.

On August 8, a constitutional review congress called by Colonel Assoumouni proposed a new constitution that would grant more powers to Parliament, separate the powers of the presidency, the judiciary, and the legislature, and protect basic liberties, including press freedom. Yet on August 15, soldiers arrested Cheick Ali Cassim, director of the private station Tropic FM. Cassim was charged with “undermining state security through the illegal possession of firearms,” although no firearms were recovered when police searched his house. Tropic FM, the only private news radio station in the country, had criticized both the conference and the draft constitution that it produced. Cassim remained imprisoned at year’s end, local sources told CPJ.

Mohamed Yssouf,

Yssouf, a correspondent for the radio station Réseau France Outre-Mer (RFO) in Comoros, was arrested while covering municipal elections on the island of Anjouan.

Yssouf’s arrest came days after his on-air remark that the weak election turnout could be explained by voters’ disenchantment with a political process that had failed to address the deteriorating economic situation. No official charges were pressed against the journalist, who was freed several days later, according to local colleagues.

Cheick Ali Cassim, Tropik FM

Soldiers arrested Cassim, the director of the independent radio station Tropik FM, at his home in the capital, Moroni, and drove him to a suburban military base. Military authorities accused Cassim, who was also active in local politics, of illegally possessing firearms. A search of his house turned up no arms, however.

Meanwhile, the judge appointed to try the case dropped it after military authorities refused his request to have Cassim transferred to a civilian prison, according to the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters sans Frontières. At press time, a new judge had not yet been appointed and Cassim was still in detention.