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Soldiers vandalise radio station studios, brutally assault three staff members

(RSF/IFEX) – 17 May 2010 - Reporters Without Borders said today it was deeply shocked by a vicious attack against staff at radio Fréquence Plus and by the vandalising of the studio by soldiers who arrived to arrest an opposition leader while he was taking part in a live broadcast.

Ambroise Ravonison was debating on air with two other Malagasy figures on 15 May when about 20 armed men, two in military uniform, members of the Special Intervention Force (FIS), raided the premises in the working class neighbourhood known as 67 Hectares.

The soldiers forced open the front door and used rifle butts to strike journalist Noéline Tombo, who was left with a broken left shoulder and needed urgent treatment in hospital, where she remained overnight. They then went up to the first floor recording studio and began to rough up radio staff as well as guests taking part in the programme "Tamberim-Baovao".

"I told them to leave the staff alone, but it was no use. They just threatened me by pointing their guns at me," programme presenter Mbinintsoa Ranaivoson told Reporters Without Borders. Technical producer Johan Scatman was knocked unconscious by blows to the head and another technician, Solofo, was left with an open scalp wound after being hit with a rifle butt.

After their assault on the editorial staff, the soldiers turned their attention to the station's guests. Pierre Andrianantenaina, a member of the High Transitional Authority (HTA), was left alone but Dr Joseph Randriamiarisoa, who is close to the former president, Albert Zafy, suffered a cut above his eye before managing to flee. His companion, Dr Harrison Razafindrakoto, was arrested but released at the end of the day. He was viciously beaten about the head and required a full medical examination.

Ambroise Ravonison, founder and president of the Democratic Legalist Republican Front, who was the soldiers' main target, was manhandled and forcibly taken to his home, which was searched and then put under seal. He is still being detained.

"Malagasy journalists and media should not be made the victims of score-settling between politicians. The circumstances of the arrest of this opposition leader during a virtual commando operation, which has damaged the press, are shocking and inexplicable," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Fréquence Plus was held hostage, its staff assaulted and a large amount of its equipment wrecked, forcing the radio to halt programmes for an unlimited period," the organisation said.

"There were no inflammatory remarks being made. Ambroise was even calmer than at his meetings," Fréquence Plus director Mbinintsoa Ranaivoson said. The station's owner, Wilson Ianona, who said he had been listening to the programme at his home, was also bewildered. "I found Ambroise very positive," he said.

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