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Seychelles' main free media threatened

afrol News, 9 December - The only stable independent newspaper in Seychelles, 'Regar', has been heavily fined after it disclosed an internal conflict in the country's judicial system. The large fine may threaten the economic backbone and survival of the country's only opposition newspaper.

The weekly Seychellois newspaper 'Regar' at a court hearing today was heavily fined for ignoring a Supreme Court order that it not publish a letter by three judges. The fine was set at rupees 40,000 (approximately euro 5,600), which is a considerable amount for an independent media house in Seychelles.

On 27 October, 'Regar' received a Supreme Court injunction, ordering the paper not to publish "in whole or in part" an internal letter written by three Supreme Court judges complaining about a court registrar's insubordination. The order, signed by Judge Bernardin Renaud, one of the letter's three signatories, said publication of the letter would prejudice the functioning of the judicial system.

'Regar' editor Roger Mancienne however refused to comply with the order, as he considered the letter to be "valid, relevant and of public interest." The weekly newspaper published the letter the following day, alongside the Supreme Court order and a chronology of the case.

'Regar' also pointed out that the letter confirmed the criticism its journalists had made about the court registrar concerned in earlier reporting. As a result, Mr Mancienne was found in contempt of court.

Today's court hearing was marked by the double role of the Seychellois judges. The same judges that wrote the letter they did not want 'Regar' to publish were behind the later injunction and involved in the fining of the newspaper.

The process against 'Regar' today was strongly condemned by the Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), which denounced the fine as excessive. RSF noted that the fine may "wipe out the Seychelles' only independent newspaper."

The French group further said it was "absurd" that the fine was decided by judges who were involved in the case against "Regar". RSF added that it was a "complete aberration" that one of the same judges would also hear the newspaper's appeal against the fine.

- The only fair solution is for judicial authorities to abandon their prosecution of 'Regar' and allow the only opposition newspaper do its work in peace, RSF said in a statement. "We call on all of the Seychelles' political and economic partners to use their influence to calm things down."

This is not the first time that 'Regar' has been prosecuted or come into conflict with authorities. It is "one of the most influential news outlets in a country with mostly spineless media," RSF said. The state press only relays official statements and carries no criticism of the government.

The threat against the survival of 'Regar' is the first serious test of the new government of President James Alix Michel, which took over as the handpicked successor of ex-President France Albert René in April this year. During the 27 years of the regime of President René, there was given little room for an independent press to develop.

President Michel has yet to announce a different policy than his predecessor regarding human rights and press freedom. Little has changed in the Seychellois media landscape since the former Vice-President took over power in mid-April.

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