Roland Hubert “Lôla” Rasoamaharo, general manager and owner of La Gazette de la Grande Île newspaper, was arrested in March 2023. He was sentenced in June 2023 to five years in jail for extortion, defamation, and death threats against a businesswoman. Colleagues told CPJ that they believed Rasoamaharo was targeted for his journalism. Days before his arrest, his outlet published an article that raised questions about President Andry Rajoelina’s re-election bid. Rasoamaharo, 71, is being held at the central prison in the capital, Antananarivo, and is suffering from poor health.
Rasoamaharo regularly published editorials critical of the government and La Gazette de la Grande Île is known for its critical stance toward Rajoelina, who was re-elected in November 2023 amid protests over alleged irregularities.
On March 24, 2023, gendarmerie officers arrested Rasoamaharo while on his way home in Antananarivo, searched his vehicle and cell phone, took him to Ankadilalana station and then to the Antananarivo Court of First Instance, Hery Rakotondrazaka, a photographer for La Gazette de la Grande Île, told CPJ and the newspaper reported.
On June 13, 2023, Rasoamaharo was sentenced to five years in prison, fined 10 million ariary (US$2,200), and ordered to pay an additional 20 million ariary (US$4,400) in damages on charges of extortion, defamation, and death threats.
The charges followed a complaint filed earlier that month by businesswoman Victoire Brigitte Razaka, accusing Rasoamaharo of trying to extort money from her, threatening to publish defamatory content about her, and threatening her life, following a dispute over a land contract.
On March 26, 2023, Razaka told a news conference that Rasoamaharo had sought to make her pay 885,000,000 ariary (US$196,000) in connection with the land dispute, published denigrating remarks about her on Facebook, attacked her in graffiti around Antananarivo, and had third parties pressure her into paying him. Rasoamaharo’s lawyers rejected the accusations, arguing that Rasoamaharo was not in Madagascar at the time.
On March 30, 2023, the offices of La Gazette de la Grande Île were raided, its computers confiscated, and its printing operations closed, as authorized by the court, in relation to a complaint by the national water and electricity company, Jirama, over unpaid bills dating from 2016. The outlet was subsequently acquitted in this case, according to news reports, but as of late 2023, the newspaper was not producing print editions and was only publishing online.
Rakotondrazaka and three other journalists told CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing safety fears, that they believed the legal action was in reprisal for Rasoamaharo’s journalism.
On March 3, 2023, the outlet reported that Rajoelina had dual French and Malagasy nationality. An adult Malagasy who acquires a foreign nationality loses his or her Malagasy nationality and presidential candidates must be Malagasy citizens. The revelation that Rajoelina had acquired French nationality in 2014 led to legal efforts to block him from running in the November elections.
Rakotondrazaka said that the charges against Rasoamaharo had “been put together to lock him up” following such coverage.
"(I’m) 99.9% sure that his legal troubles are due to La Gazette’s publications," a former colleague told CPJ on condition of anonymity, pointing to the dual citizenship leak.
In October 2023, an investigation by Amnesty International and several media outlets into the export of surveillance technology found that Rasoamaharo’s phone was targeted with Predator spyware in 2020, according to news reports.
Rakotondrazaka said Rasoamaharo’s health had deteriorated in prison as he was 71 years old and suffered from sciatic nerve pain.
As of late 2023, CPJ did not receive any responses to calls requesting comment from the ministry of justice and Razaka’s company ETRAD.