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Madagascar president vows to release journalist critic

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Soccer Football – Africa Cup of Nations 2019 – Round of 16 – Madagascar v DR Congo – Alexandria Stadium, Alexandria, Egypt – July 7, 2019 Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina before the match REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina has promised to release a prominent journalist who was detained after criticising his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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”.

Rahelisoa, the only journalist detained in Madagascar, has filed three requests for release, all of which have been rejected. She risks a prison term of between one and five years.

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“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,” Rajoelina announced on television on Sunday.

Amnesty International has taken up Rahelisoa’s case, urging the authorities to release her and guarantee freedom of expression.

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. These measures 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.

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