Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Comorian government's threat to prosecute a journalist who revealed the existence of this Indian Ocean archipelago's first suspected coronavirus cases. The authorities must guarantee the protection of journalists' sources and not obstruct their work, which is more essential than ever during a public health crisis, RSF said.
Comoros continues to be one of the few African countries where no confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported but Andjouza Abouheir, a journalist with La Gazette des Comores, an independent daily, may have found the explanation. None of the samples taken from six persons suspected of being infected were sent for analysis, she revealed in report published on 1 April, prompting the authorities to accuse her of "disinformation." After a cabinet meeting the same day, government spokesman Houmed Msaidie threatened to bring legal proceedings against all journalists publishing information about the public health crisis "without going through the official channels." At the same time, the public health department contacted Abouheir, demanding the name of her source for the story.
"This case is an example of the increasingly frequent attempts to ban or censor any information that has not come from the government, even when it is reliable and authentic," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "The Comorian authorities cannot assume a monopoly of information about this public health crisis. It is essential for journalists to be able to work with complete freedom and independence without being subjected to threats or intimidation, including with regard to the identity of their sources."
The National Union of Comorian Journalists (SNJC) issued a statement condemning "an act that does not accord with the statements of the president, who demanded transparency in the handling of this public health crisis." Journalists will "not limit themselves to reporting the information provided at press conferences and in communiques," the union added.
More than 7,000 coronavirus cases and 290 deaths have so far been reported in Africa, with only five of the African Union's 55 countries so far been spared any cases. The crisis is being reflected in acts of censorship, threats and attacks on journalists. RSF has already tallied a score of press freedom violations in sub-Saharan Africa related to the crisis.
Comoros is ranked 56th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.