Reporters Without Borders deplores the fact that Free FM, an opposition radio station based in Antananarivo, has been off the air for the past two days after angering Andry Rajoelina’s transitional government by broadcasting a message by mutineering soldiers that announced the “dissolution of the current state institutions.”
In a Facebook post on the evening of 22 July, Free FM director Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy wrote: “For the safety of its employees and its equipment, Free FM has decided to suspend its broadcasts (...) we take responsibility for this decision.”
“It is regrettable that the political tug-of-war of the past few months between the transitional authorities and radio Free FM has resulted in a suspension of broadcasting by what is the last opposition radio station,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the two sides to enter into a dialogue as the only way to avoid further loss of freedom of information in the political crisis that has been going on for more than three years.
“With the two main protagonists of this crisis – transitional leader Andry Rajoelina and ousted president Marc Ravalomanana – due to meet this week, it is crucial that Free FM should be able to resume broadcasting without being exposed to danger and with its presenters acting with the appropriate caution and responsibility.”
The mutiny by soldiers in the early morning of 22 July led to clashes at the base of the 1st Intervention Forces Regiment (RFI) near Antananarivo international airport at Ivato. As a safety measure, the airport was closed and all flights were suspended. The mutiny was eventually put down.
Immediately after the start of the mutiny, Free FM broadcast a communiqué by the mutineers announcing the suspension of political institutions and the “creation of a military directorate.”
Communication minister Harry Laurent Rahajason, a former journalist better known by the pen-name of Rolly Mercia, reacted by announcing that Free FM was “liable to be prosecuted for complicity in an attack on state security (...) spreading false reports and inciting hatred and revolt.”
In the wake of the communication minister’s statement, soldiers loyal to the transitional government raided the station and disconnected its electricity supply. After realizing it was still broadcasting, the solders went back at around 7 p.m. to seize its broadcast equipment. The equipment had already been moved to safe location as a pre-emptive measure, according to Rakotondrazafy, who nonetheless finally decided to “turn off the microphones.”