Reporters Without Borders “protested energetically” today against the mistreatment of reporter Elarifou Minihadji of Radio Ngazidja, a state-owned radio station on the island of Grande Comore, during the three days he was held by gendarmes on the breakaway island of Anjouan.
Arrested on 24 June while covering a demonstration at Anjouan's airport, Minihadji was sent back to Grande Comore after being released yesterday.
“We are outraged by the extremely brutal treatment of this journalist, who is also a member of the Comorian Association of Human Rights (ACDH),” Reporters Without Borders said. “His dual status was almost certainly an underlying factor in his arrest, as Anjouan's authorities reject any attempt by Grande Comore to intervene in its affairs.”
The organisation added: “The constant political turmoil in the Comoros is not grounds for violating fundamental rights. On top of everything else, Minihadji's arrest was illegal as the gendarmes gave no reason for detaining him.”
The demonstration at Anjouan airport was prompted by the arrival of an African Union ministerial delegation to mediate with Col. Mohamed Bacar, who was elected president in a disputed poll held on 10 June over the federal government's objections. The demonstrators gathered at the airport to protest against Bacar's election and show support for the AU's mediation attempt.
Minihadji told Reporters Without Borders by telephone that he was subjected to physical and psychological mistreatment during the three days he was held at the gendarmerie's headquarters in Anjouan. He said his back was still hurting from being hit with a belt and whipped for several hours, but what most pained him was the fact that he was forced to hit other detainees.
He also reported that he was accused of trying to explain the basic principles of the electoral laws to the people of Anjouan. While beating him, the gendarmes kept saying he should go and “defend democracy elsewhere” and “leave Anjouan to the people of Anjouan.”