Madagascar’s government targets the church
May 27, 2010
Pastor Ranaivo Rivo Arson of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) was shot and fatally wounded by Malagasy soldiers on Thursday, May 20, when pastors were trying to hold a worship service to pray for peace in the troubled nation. A second FJKM pastor, Pastor Valisoa Rafanonerantsoa, was physically assaulted and detained.
The attack occurred amidst growing tensions in the Malagasy security forces between military factions who toppled Madagascar’s democratically elected government on March 17, 2009, and those who wish to see a restoration of constitutional rule. Church leaders have demanded respect for human rights and a return to the rule of law. The Religious Leaders’ Movement, which was formed to promote these objectives, has been holding regular prayer services for peace. On May 20, the movement was preparing to hold a service at a public place near a military camp where a group of military police was refusing to obey the current government. Soldiers loyal to the government arrived on the scene and began launching grenades and firing automatic weapons. At least four people, including Pastor Rivo Arson, were killed and about 15 wounded. At least five people were detained, including Pastor Valisoa.
The Church’s outspokenness has attracted the government’s wrath. A number of the movement’s leaders have gone into hiding following threats that more clergy will be arrested. The FJKM has become a particular target, in part because of its close ties with the deposed President, Marc Ravalomanana. Shortly after the attack, government forces closed down the FJKM radio station, Radio Fahazavana, removing broadcasting equipment, sealing the premises and jailing seven journalists and technicians. Two more people associated with the station, including Pastor Tiburce Soavinarivo, were subsequently detained.
The FJKM responded with a letter in which it urges people to remain calm, to have mutual respect and to listen to one another: “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). On May 25, it held a special worship service to pray for peace and justice and has encouraged pastors to hold similar services across the island.
Madagascar’s de facto government, which calls itself the High Authority of the Transition (HAT), has become increasingly erratic since seizing power in March 2009. Twice Andry Rajoelina, HAT’s leader, has agreed to peace deals at multiparty talks brokered by the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. Twice he has repudiated these agreements after signing them. The economic advances and infrastructural development achieved under democracy have crumbled. Essential freedoms are under attack. There are reports of growing corruption in the public sector.
The African Union has imposed targeted sanctions on the regime, freezing the assets and travel privileges of members of the government and other supporters of the regime. The United States had joined many other countries in cutting off economic assistance to Madagascar (including the withdrawal of benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act).
If you are concerned about human rights, democratic participation and the attacks on the church in Madagascar, please pray for peace and justice for all of Madagascar’s people. In addition, please share your concerns with your members of Congress. You may also wish to contact Mr. James Liddle, the State Department Desk Officer responsible for Madagascar, at (202) 647-5652.
Please ask them:
- To unambiguously condemn attacks on the church and church leaders in Madagascar.
- To call for the release of all political prisoners, including the detained pastors and Radio Fahazavana personnel.
- To work vigorously for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Madagascar.
- To impose targeted sanctions on officials of Madagascar’s illegal regime, as proposed by the African Union.
- To work for a global ban on the provision of military assistance to the coup d’état government.