SEYCHELLES: Police crack down on media freedom protesters

Thursday, October 5, 2006
Police in the capital of the Seychelles, Victoria, fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters demanding the opening of the airwaves on Tuesday. Some opposition party members were detained and others hospitalised.

Up to a hundred supporters of the opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP) gathered outside parliament during a discussion on an amendment to broadcasting laws that deny other political parties access to radio and TV stations.

"While the law was debated [SNP] asked supporters to come ... to sign a petition. While they were assembling there were lots of police and an anti-riot unit - they went into action immediately," Roger Mancienne, editor of the weekly opposition newspaper, Regar, told IRIN.

Mancienne, who was among those detained by police, said: "The leaders of SNP were immediately apprehended - party officials were severely beaten and kept in custody in the hospital because of their wounds."

SNP leader Wavel Ramkalawan, who lost to presidential incumbent James Michel in July elections, was among those injured and arrested.

"He [Ramkalawan] was told the gathering was illegal, and to take steps to disperse the crowd. He was then suddenly beaten by riot police," said Mancienne.

In a television address on Tuesday evening, Police Commissioner Gerard Waye Hive called the assembly an "illegal gathering", and said his officers were forced to act to disperse the crowd. He maintained that Ramkalawan had resisted arrest.

Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog, condemned the police action, saying: "It is perfectly legitimate to demand an end to the state's broadcasting monopoly and strict control of the public media; it is incomprehensible that anti-riot police used violence against unarmed citizens, who turned out in support of the opposition and journalists."

The Seychelles People's Progressive Front has been in power in the Indian Ocean archipelago for almost three decades since former President Albert Rene's bloodless coup in 1977. Multiparty democracy was restored in 1993, followed by the appointment of Michel as Rene's successor in 1994.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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