Seychellois campaign for free independent radio, 2006

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Timing
Time Period:  
August
2006
to
October
2006
Location and Goals
Country: 
Seychelles
Location City/State/Province: 
Victoria/Mahè Island
Goals: 
"To demand an end to the state’s monopoly of radio and TV broadcasting." -From Reporters Without Borders
 

The Republic of Seychelles is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, east of Tanzania. The Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) has held power in the Republic of Seychelles since their coup d’etat in 1977. Despite laws that nominally provide freedom of speech to the people, SPPF has carefully controlled the media through the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and with steep licensing fees for independent television and radio stations. Additionally, the law allowed for civil lawsuits to punish journalists for “libel.”

Following the presidential reelection of SPPF’s James Michel in July of 2006, members of the opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP) announced their intention to raise funds for the 800,000 rupee (US $146,000) yearly licensing fee and apply for a radio broadcasting license. In response, the SPPF minister, Jacquelin Dugasse, introduced an amendment to the Broadcasting and Telecommunication Act that the National Assembly prepared to vote for on October 3, 2006. The Broadcasting and Telecommunication Act grants the Minister of Information Technology the power to prohibit the broadcast of any material he believes to be against the "national interest" or "objectionable," and requires all telecommunications companies to provide subscriber information to the government. The amendment to the act would also prohibit political parties and religious groups from obtaining broadcasting licenses. Dugasse cited the dangerous role of radio broadcasts in the Rwandan genocide as the motivation for his move.

Several hundreds of members of the opposition, most from the SNP, organized a march on the National Assembly Hall on October 3 to protest the amendment and demand free independent radio. Protesters signed a petition against the bill and wished to deliver the petition to President James Michel, asking him not to sign the amendment into law. Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the SNP, spoke to the crowd and emphasized the importance of signing the petition, while regular police encouraged everyone to leave.

Demonstrators and police alike were surprised when the Special Support Unit (SSU), a heavily armed group of paramilitary police, arrived to disperse the peaceful gathering. The armed police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd and beat the protesters with batons. At least 25 people sought medical attention. Wavel Ramkalawan was hospitalized along with four others. Police arrested Roger Mancienne, SNP’s secretary-general and editor of the opposition newspaper Regar, and held him at the police station for nearly 24 hours.

The members of the SNP in the National Assembly walked out in protest of the police brutality and handling of the situation. In their absence, the National Assembly voted unanimously to approve the amendment.

The government owns the only television station and all radio stations, in addition to the only daily newspaper, the Nation. Only two independent weekly newspapers exist, Regar and le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly. However, the government has sued Regar for libel numerous times. The accumulated legal fees have shaken Regar’s financial livelihood.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Henrie, Gervais J. "Protests over Freedom of Expression." Seychelles Digital. 7 Oct. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://henrieict.blogspot.com/2006/10/protests-over-freedom-of-expression.html>.

"Judicial Harassment Forces Opposition Weekly to Stop Publishing." Reporters Sans Frontières. 26 Oct. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://en.rsf.org/seychelles-judicial-harassment-forces-26-10-2006,19455.html>.

"Newspaper Editor Arrested, Publisher Injured When Police Disperse Protest against State Broadcast Monopoly." IFEX. International Freedom of Expression Exchange, 3 Oct. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://www.ifex.org/seychelles/2006/10/03/newspaper_editor_arrested_publisher/>.

"Newspaper Editor Freed, Charged with “unlawful Assembly”." Reporters Sans Frontières. 4 Nov. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://en.rsf.org/seychelles-newspaper-editor-freed-charged-04-10-2006,19039.html>.

"Seychelles." U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 8 Mar. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61590.htm>.

"Seychelles." U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 6 Mar. 2007. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78755.htm>.

St. Ange, Alain. Seychelles: The Cry of a People. France: Imprimerie Toscane, 2007. Print.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jennifer Trinh 19/02/2011