Update on Trials in Madagascar, 24 March 2012

Map of MadagascarFJKM pastor Valisoa Rafanonerantsoa went to trial in Madagascar on 24 March 2012, accused of involvement in military opposition to the government of Andry Rajoelina.  At the end of the day the trial was adjourned without a verdict, without clear indication as to when a verdict will be rendered.  According to press accounts, there were 36 people on trial for the military uprising/civilian worship service on 20 May 2010, 25 military and 11 civilians, only 25 of whom showed up in court.  Those who came to the trial from jail were taken back to jail, their petitions for release pending trial having been rejected.

Earlier, on 11 January 2010, Pastor Valisoa appeared in a photograph on the front page of the La Vérité newspaper along with other white-robed pastors including pastor Ranaivo Rivo Arson.  The headline read: “The Ku Klux Klan in Madagascar?”  A subsequent article on 14 January was more direct, calling the group of pastors the “Ku Klux Klan of Antsahamanitra”, in reference to the FJKM-owned ampitheater where the pastors had been leading a worship service for peace.  The 11 January article quotes one of the pastors as having urged those in attendance “to dare to say ‘no’ to all forms of attacks on human rights and liberty of expression”.  Both articles were written by the current Malagasy Minister of Communications, Harry Rahajason (=Rolly Mercia).

Pastor Valisoa’s trial is scheduled to begin one day after the end of another trial that involved military and civilians related to a military uprising in November 2010.  In that trial the defending lawyers demanded that their clients be set free in accordance with Article 16 of the roadmap for ending Madagascar’s crisis, which provides for the termination of “ongoing legal proceedings against members of the opposition that would appear to be politically motivated”.  The court rejected this demand.

Earlier, on 11 March, the Minister of Justice told the press that Article 16 “does not apply to members of the military” and does not apply to Mr. Ranjeva and his daughter “because they are not members of the opposition”.  The defense called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to interpret Article 16 in accordance with Article 32 which says “Any dispute arising from the interpretation and implementation of this Roadmap shall be referred to the attention of the SADC Mediation for resolution”.  The SADC liaison office in Antananarivo responded to the request of the defense by sending a letter asking that the parties wait for SADC to provide interpretation of Article 16.  But the court ignored SADC’s request and went ahead with the trial.

Previously, in September 2011, SADC representatives signed an ‘Explanatory Note’ that is an integral part of the roadmap, by which “SADC recognizes and respects the competence, legitimacy and independence of the judicial systems of its member states.”  Further, it states that “SADC does not have the power to interfere or annul any judicial condemnation by a national court of any Member State.”  This Explanatory Note has been interpreted as meaning SADC acceptance of past and future judicial decisions of the Rajoelina regime.

Of those sentenced on 21 March 2012, 7 were sentenced to 5 years of hard labor, 2 to 7 years of hard labor, and one, Lt.-Col. Charles Andrianasoavina, was sentenced in absentia to life of hard labor. One of those sentenced to 7 years of hard labor was General Raoelina.  The 2010 Human Rights Report of the US State Department reported that shortly after his arrest in November 2010, he had “severe deep bruising in the face and chest and had been in and out of consciousness, likely as a result of physical abuse by the arresting officers.”

Eleven other people were acquitted or released for lack of evidence.  Among those acquitted is Raymond Ranjeva, a retired judge who sat on the International Court of Justice in the Hague for many years and as such has been one of the most prominent Malagasy citizens on the world stage.  His daughter Riana Ranjeva-Ratsisalovanina was let off for lack of evidence.  Ironically, whereas judge Ranjeva was accused of preparing a coup d’état, the government that arrested and charged him is considered by the US government to have come to power by coup d’état, ousting the democratically elected president.

The US State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report for Madagascar describes many ways that the de facto regime has repressed dissent and used security forces and the judiciary as tools for repression.  The report indicates that the de facto regime practiced arbitrary arrest and detention and that “often persons were detained and jailed based on accusations or political affiliation.”  The report states that “the judiciary was susceptible to executive influence at all levels,” and “the use or threat of intimidation surrounded every major judicial decision since March 2009.”  Further, the US Department of the Treasury on 21 February 2012 stated “the United States continues to view the de facto government in Madagascar as an illegitimate regime, and has serious concerns about the steady deterioration in the rule of law”.

In its October 2011 report about Madagascar, Amnesty International called for human rights to “be at the heart of the road map to end the crisis”. “Amnesty International is concerned that members of the Malagasy security forces including the police, the gendarmerie and other security entities set up by the High Transitional Authority (Haute Autorité de la Transition, HAT) are still committing serious human rights violations including unlawful killings, cases of torture as well as unlawful arrests and detentions.”  “The organization is concerned about arrests and prolonged detention without trial of perceived or real political opponents to the HAT.”

So far, since the signing of the roadmap in September 2011, Andry Rajoelina and his Minister of Justice have not terminated politically-motivated legal proceedings against opponents of the Rajoelina regime as provided for in Article 16.  Among those still awaiting trial are 11 employees of the FJKM radio station, Radio Fahazavana, and the director of the FJKM orphanage, Ms. Tantely Rakotoarivony.  The ongoing set of trials show that the Ministry of Justice is continuing the practice of using the judiciary as a tool of repression and intimidation.  SADC has not complained about the continued use of the courts to repress and intimidate those who speak out against the regime. The US government also has not responded, so far keeping silent with respect to the recent court proceedings.

Learn more about Presbyterians in ministry with our sisters and brothers in Madagascar.

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