ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — Last week, an environmental activist in southeast Madagascar was convicted, sentenced to two years in prison — and immediately released on parole. This follows a recent pattern in the country in which activists are often given suspended sentences, seemingly as a way of keeping them quiet.
The activist, who goes by the name Raleva, is a farmer in the village of Vohilava, where a gold mining company, Mac Lai Sima Gianna, has repeatedly tried to establish operations. At a meeting on September 27, the company announced that it had the permits to resume work in the area. After Raleva asked to see the permits, which, according to the National Environment Office, had not in fact been granted, he was arrested. He remained in prison for about one month leading up to his trial in Mananjary, the district capital, on October 26.
The chef de district of Mananjary, a local official who had attended the meeting, charged Raleva with stealing his title — that is, falsely claiming that he, Raleva, was the chef de district. Raleva and other meeting attendees say that the charge is completely false. They pointed out to Mongabay that Raleva would have had no reason to lie about who he was while attending a meeting with his fellow villagers, who knew that he was a local farmer and not a government official.
In a joint statement, six civil society groups in Madagascar and abroad, including Amnesty International, denounced the verdict.
“The two year suspended sentence handed to Raleva continues the trend whereby the judicial system is used by the authorities to silence human rights activists and prevent them from doing their work,” the groups wrote. “He is being punished for exposing an allegedly non-compliant mining company in Madagascar. The suspended sentence must be immediately overturned, and Raleva cleared of any criminal record in relation to his peaceful human rights activism.”
The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the trial or the joint statement. The prosecutor’s office in Mananjary also could not be reached for comment this week.
After the verdict, Raleva was released; the next day he returned home to Vohilava and his lawyer filed an appeal. A resident of Vohilava told Mongabay the community is thrilled to have Raleva back and is hopeful the appeal will clear his name.
Mac Lai Sima Gianna’s machinery remains in Vohilava, but the company has yet to resume working in the area, despite the plans they announced at the September 27 meeting.
Banner image: A white spotted reed frog (Heterixalus alboguttatus) in Ranomafana National Park, about 30 miles west of Vohilava. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
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