(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Colonel Azali Assoumani, head of the junta in power in Moroni, RSF expressed its concern about the unfolding of the trial of Allaoui Saïd Omar, publication director of "La Gazette des Comores". RSF asked the head of state to "consult with the pertinent authorities so that the journalist can have a fair trial." The organisation is particularly concerned by the arrest of Saïd Larifou, the journalist's lawyer. "Without wishing to comment on the substance of the case, our organisation asks that the trial of the 'La Gazette des Comores' director follow the criteria of international legal procedures," stated Robert Ménard, RSF's secretary-general.
According to information collected by RSF, legal proceedings have been launched against Omar by Mahamoud Mradabi, president of the Shawiri Party (which is close to the governing party), because on 8 March 2001, Omar published a press release of the Paris-based Union of the Comoros Opposition (Union de l'opposition comorienne), in which the organisation called for Mradabi's "referral to the competent jurisdiction." The press release also added: "Allied with mercenaries, Mradabi is also a separatist: during the 9 March 1999 demonstration... he showed his true intentions, which can be summarised in these words: violence, hate, racism and defending his personal interests." On 15 March, during the first hearing of the trial before Moroni's court of first instance, Larifou, the "Gazette des Comores" director's lawyer, who is from la Réunion, was taken away from the courtroom and placed in police custody at the capital's police station. "The presiding judge refused to accept my request for damages in a case involving a press law violation... Further to my insistence, he ordered that I be taken away," explained Larifou in a letter to the president of the Bar of Saint-Pierre, la Réunion. The lawyer was released the same evening without explanation, before returning to la Réunion. The next hearing is scheduled for 14 April.
Omar is founder of the weekly "La Gazette des Comores". He is also a founding member of the Comoran Human Rights Association (Association comorienne des droits de l'homme, ACDH).