Radio stations attacked ahead of general election

New York, May 9, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by attacks on radio stations in the Comoros in the run-up to May 14 federal elections in the Indian Ocean state. Unidentified assailants armed with machetes stormed two radio stations on the island of Grande Comore on May 5, forcing them off the air for 24 hours. The army shut down a radio station on the island of Mohéli more than a week ago, and it has not resumed broadcasting, local journalists told CPJ.

Attackers ransacked Radio Ngazidja, the official station of the semi-autonomous government of Grande Comore, and Moroni FM, a private station that supports the federal government. It was unclear whether the attacks were coordinated or the work of separate groups. Local journalists believe the attacks were linked to the stations’ political views. No one has been prosecuted. The two stations supported different candidates in the upcoming election.

On Mohéli, the local military commander confiscated broadcasting equipment of Radio Mohéli, the official station of the island’s semi-autonomous government, over a week ago. Local journalists said the closure stemmed from long-running tensions between island authorities and the military, which is controlled by the federal government. Two journalists said that Mohéli’s public prosecutor, a federal government appointee, accused the station of incitement after it aired protests against the federal government-appointed director of a state-owned agency. Government and military representatives could not be reached for comment.

“The attacks on these radio stations in the lead-up to presidential elections are deeply disturbing,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We call on the authorities to investigate them immediately and bring those responsible to justice. The military must also explain publicly why Radio Moroni remains shuttered during this crucial time.”

The Comoros are a confederation of three main islands, Grande Comore, Mohéli, and Anjouan, located between Mozambique and Madagascar. Each island has had its own semi-autonomous government since 2001 in an attempt to stabilize the country, which has endured 19 coups or attempted coups since independence from France in 1975. The federal government sits in the capital Moroni, on Grande Comore. The May 14 elections are for a new federal president and two vice presidents.