Madagascar’s government has banned public protests as concerns about the stifling of dissent grow seven months before the presidential election, Radio France International (RFI) reports.
French-owned RFI said on Monday that the minister of interior announced on state TV that no political protests would be allowed in public but they could be held in “an enclosed place” so public order could be maintained.
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The announcement was made on Friday. A day earlier, the La Gazette de la Grande newspaper said its offices were raided after the arrest of its owner Lola Rasoamaharo, RFI reported.
Rasoamaharo has been charged with defamation and extortion, RFI said.
Critics of the government said the protest ban and Rasoamaharo’s arrest are examples of recent crackdowns on dissent in the island nation of 29 million people ahead of the first round of presidential voting in November.
President Andry Rajoelina is expected to seek re-election.
“Today we are moving towards dictatorship,” said Hajo Andrianainarivelo, leader of the opposition Malagasy MMM party and a former cabinet minister.
In 2022, Madagascar was ranked 98 out of 180 countries by Reporters Without Borders in its press freedom index.
In July, two opposition leaders were arrested when hundreds of people protested in the capital, Antananarivo, against rising living costs and deteriorating economic conditions.
Weeks later, 18 people were killed when police opened fire on what they called a lynch mob angered at the kidnapping of a child with albinism in the southeastern part of the country.
In recent months, Madagascar has also faced devastating cyclones that have further added to the economic hardship in one of the poorest nations in the world.
More than two dozen Malagasy died and tens of thousands were left homeless when Cyclone Cheneso ripped along the island’s western coast in January. Two months later, Cyclone Freddy tore through Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar, killing more than 220 people and displacing almost 60,000.