New York, March 14, 2011--Two Comorian journalists charged today with "publishing false news" in their coverage of the formal handover of power between President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi and President-elect Ikililou Dhoinine could face up to six months in prison if convicted, according to local journalists and news reports.
In January, the European Union urged Comorian authorities to proceed with the handover of power, which is scheduled to occur by May 26, according to a June 2010 agreement brokered by international mediators to appease political tensions between the leaders of the Comoros' three main islands, according to news reports.
A public prosecutor in Moroni, capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros, charged Ali Moindjié, editor of the private daily Albalad, and Hadji Hassanali, editor of bimonthly La Tribune des Comores, under the penal code, according to the news reports. The charges are based on a news item, published in Albalad on March 3 edition and in La Tribune des Comores on February 20, reporting that the official swearing-in ceremony of president-elect Dhoinine "could be" delayed beyond the scheduled date of May 26. Presidential Chief of Staff Ahmed Ben Said Jaffar denied the claim that there may be a delay, and the public prosecutor deemed the reports "of a nature to trouble public order," according to local journalists.
"Political reporting is not a criminal offense punishable by prison as the authorities seem to think," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on the magistrate overseeing the trial to dismiss these overblown charges against Ali Moindjié and Hadji Hassanali."
Moindjié told the Panafrican News Agency that police pressed him to reveal his sources for the story in question during interrogations on Friday. Moindjié and Hassanali are scheduled to appear in court on April 11, according to local journalists.