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Stated Clerk letter to Secretary Clinton on Madagascar

March 1, 2011

The Hon. Hilary Clinton
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

The 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) expressed its profound concern about the continuing suppression of democracy in Madagascar and, in particular, the stifling of free expression by the de facto administration led by Andry Rajoelina.  As you are undoubtedly aware, the current government, which seized power in March 2009 as the result of a coup d’état, has closed more than 80 independent radio stations, including Radio Fahazavana, the station owned and operated by our partner, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM).  Ten Radio Fahazavana personnel were jailed for 100 days following the station’s closure on May 20, 2010, and they still await trial.  In addition, Rajoelina’s government has repeatedly denied the right of peaceful demonstration, jailing opposition leaders who demonstrate without permits.

Now the government’s campaign against free expression appears to have taken a new turn. On February 19, 2011, security forces raided the premises of TOPAZA, an orphanage operated by the FJKM in Ambohipotsy, Antananarivo.  Although they produced no evidence, they claimed to have found broadcasting equipment said to belong to a clandestine independent station, Radion’ny Gasy.  In the wake of the raid, at least seven people have been imprisoned, including the Director of the orphanage, Ms. Tantely Rakotoarivony, who was arrested on February 25 on charges of keeping a pirate radio station.   Equally alarming, the de facto government issued a media statement claiming that the President of the FJKM, Rev. Lala Rasendrahasina, had personally approved the station’s use of TOPAZA’s premises. We are concerned that such allegations (which are denied by Rev. Rasendrahasina) will place him and other FJKM officials in jeopardy. A number of pastors have been in hiding at different times because of fear of retribution for their work in support of a restoration of constitutional democracy.

We applaud the U.S. government’s refusal to recognise regimes, such as Madagascar’s, that have seized power by force.  We also commend the State Department’s efforts to encourage and support the peacemaking initiatives of regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU).

At the same time, we believe that more can be done to put pressure on the Rajoelina government to abide by the commitments that it has made in those negotiating forums and to make way for a return to democracy.  We urge the Obama administration to intensify its efforts to secure a peaceful and just resolution to Madagascar’s political crisis.  We ask that State Department officials indicate clearly to the Malagasy government the seriousness with which the United States views the detention and intimidation of religious leaders and that a visit is made to Ms. Rakotoarivony in prison to ensure that she is being properly treated. We also ask that the United States encourage the United Nations to become involved in efforts to protect human rights and restore democracy in Madagascar.

We appreciate your attention in this matter and we look forward to learning what steps you plan to take to promote free expression and an expeditious return to democracy in Madagascar.

Yours in Christ’s mission,

Rev. Grayde Parsons
Stated Clerk

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