Comoros: RSF denounces the abusive judicial proceedings against four journalists
The trial of four Comoran journalists begins on June 22. They have been charged with "defamation and insult" by an executive of the Comoros Radio and Television Office (ORTC). Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this abuse of process and calls on the authorities to shed full light on the alleged "sexual violence" against women journalists.
Andjouza Abouheir of Gazette des Comores, RFI (Radio France Internationale) correspondent Abdallah Mzembaba and Oubeidillah Mchangama of Facebook FM Comores will finally take the stand on 22 June, after an initial postponement of their trial which was initially scheduled for late May. Toufé Maecha, news director of the Comoros Radio and Television Office (ORTC) and president of the local section of the International Francophone Press Union, was also summoned. All four are members of the journalists' union, and are the target of a defamation suit brought by Hablani Assoumani, a senior executive at the national television station.
On 17 January 2023, at the ceremony to present the Comorian president's best wishes to the media, Andjouza Abouheir, then head of the union, took the floor to list the problems facing her profession. She also denounced alleged acts of “sexual violence” committed by an ORTC executive against women journalists working at the national television station. The Comorian president immediately declared: "If this story is true, you have the right to lodge a complaint."
"Instead of conducting an independent investigation into accusations of sexual violence in the workplace made against a public broadcasting employee, the authorities prefer to drag journalists who have reported serious incidents to court. This is indicative of an abuse of process. The charges against these journalists must be dropped, and the justice system must shed full light on the alleged cases of sexual violence. We call on the authorities to provide better protection for women journalists.
After the complaint was lodged in January, the journalists were immediately questioned at the police station in Moroni, the country's capital. A few days later, on 1 February, Andjouza Abouheir received a summons, "without cause", to report to the gendarmerie's investigative brigade the following day. She was then questioned for three hours before being released. Summoned the same day, Abdallah Mzembaba learned during his interview that the ORTC executive had accused him of "defaming him on RFI". This he strongly contested: in his report broadcast on 18 January, which RSF listened to, the statements of the journalists' union spokeswoman are reported, but the name of the individual in question is not mentioned. Toufé Maecha was interviewed on 6 February. The ORTC executive suspects him of being behind this complaint of violence against women journalists.
The successive complaints against the four journalists are evidence of an approach of intimidation. Despite the adoption of a new Information Code in 2021, in Comoros journalists are regularly summoned or threatened with legal complaints. In July 2020, Andjouza Abouheir herself was threatened with a complaint following the publication of an investigation into the first cases of Covid-19 in the country.
This legal proceeding is also diverting attention from the subject of the alleged sexual violence. No complaints have been lodged by the alleged victims. "But facts of sexual violence are often met with silence from the victims for fear of losing their jobs", recalls a source who wishes to remain anonymous. Sexism and assault against women continue to give cause for concern in the journalistic sphere. The authorities and newsrooms concerned must take the necessary steps to protect the work of women journalists.