In Comoros, government targets critical TV station

New York, August 3, 2007—Journalists in Africa’s Comoros islands say they were prevented from traveling to the separatist island of Anjouan to cover Independence Day celebrations Friday. Local reporters say travel agencies refused to sell them airline tickets.

Editor Ibrahim Ali Saïd Félix and cameraman Ismael Kassim of Djabal Télévision, a private station based on the main volcanic island of Grande Comore, were unable to board a flight to Anjouan after travel agencies refused to sell them tickets until Monday, Djabal TV director Mmadi Moindjié told CPJ. Moindjié and Félix  allege that Comores Aviation and Air Service Comores, two private travel agencies that exclusively provide inter-island trips from the capital, Moroni, linked the move to government pressure in connection with Djabal TV’s coverage of Anjouan authorities.

Djabal TV had been the only media to report from Anjouan since Col. Mohamed Bacar proclaimed himself president in June. The Comoros’ national government does not officially recognize him, local journalists told CPJ. The station’s coverage was dominated by daily interviews of Anjouan leaders and opposition figures, they said.

“Allegations of government interference in the work of the press need to be vigorously investigated,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Police had already detained Félix on July 14 for 10 hours in a separate incident when he returned to Moroni’s airport from a reporting trip on Anjouan. They questioned the journalist about his alleged links to the Anjouan leadership, according to news reports.

In a telephone interview with CPJ, Comoros government spokesman Abdourahim Saïd Bacar denied any personal knowledge of the matter, saying that Djabal TV could travel and broadcast freely. But he accused the station, based in Iconi, southwest of Moroni, of “in some ways inciting hatred and rebellion within the population by constantly interviewing anyone opposed to the government.”

The presidential chief of staff in charge of national defense, Mohamed Dossar, also denied the allegations, but accused the station of being “the ‘Radio Télévision Libre des
Milles Collines’ of the Comoros”—the station that incited genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Dossar said that while the station’s programs had not caused any violence or deaths, they were “fueling inter-insular tensions.”

Located between Mozambique and Madagascar, the three-island Comoros archipelago has suffered 19 coups or attempted coups since it gained independence from France in 1975. In 1997, Anjouan seceded from the Union of Comoros, but returned to the federation under a 2001 accord that granted each island its own government and president.