ANTANANARIVO – A prominent Madagascar journalist detained a month ago after criticizing President Andry Rajoelina’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was released on Monday.
Arphine Rahelisoa, who heads the pro-opposition newspaper Valisoa, was charged on April 4 with “inciting hatred” after running a blog that notably said “COVID-19, lockdown, Andry Rajoelina, killer.”
The charges against Rahelisoa, the only journalist detained in Madagascar, have not been dropped. She could face a prison term of between one and five years.
“I thank everyone for thinking of me,” Rahelisoa said as she left a detention center in Antananarivo on Monday.
“I was treated well in prison because I was a journalist,” added Rahelisoa, who had previously filed three unsuccessful requests for release.
President Rajoelina had promised her release on television on Sunday.
“I am going to take steps for the release of journalists who are currently in prison, and I urge journalists to exercise freedom within the scope of the law,” he said.
Amnesty International had taken up Rahelisoa’s case, urging the authorities to release her and guarantee freedom of expression. UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, has designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day.
The communications ministry said Sunday it was an “abuse of… freedom” to fail to take into account the exceptional situation facing Madagascar and this “should in no way be put forward as freedom of the press.”
Rajoelina placed the country’s three biggest cities on lockdown for several weeks in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus, measures that have since been lifted.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Madagascar has had 151 cases of coronavirus, but no fatalities, according to official figures.