Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS expresses deep concern over the unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention of environmental rights defender Raleva. We condemn this action and call for his immediate release.
Raleva, who only goes by his last name, was arrested on September 27, 2017 in Vohilava village in Madagascar’s Mananjary district for his advocacy work with communities affected by the illegal mining activities of a Chinese gold mining company in the area.
He was arrested during a meeting called by the mining company and the head of the local district, to inform the community that it would resume its mining operations, which were suspended by the government in 2016. Madagascar’s Mines and Petrol Ministry in 2016 ordered mining be stopped after community-led protests claiming the company was operating without necessary authorisation.
Police arrested Raleva when he demanded that the company show proof that it had received the relevant permit required to re-start gold mining operations. He was held at the Mananjary police station for five days and then transferred to Mananjary prison on October 3, where he is currently detained. He is being charged with “falsely impersonating the district head”, a charge he denies as the said district head was present at the meeting hence impersonating him would have been impossible.
Raleva is a member of the human rights organisation, Justice et Paix and Observatoire Independant des Droits Economiques, Sociaux et Culturels à Madagascar (OIDESCM), which works with the Centre de Recherches et d’Appui pour les Alternatives de Developpement - Océean Indien (CRAAD-OI).
No date has been set for his court hearing.
Said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Lead: “When an activist like Raleva speaks out about the rights of communities and calls for accountability and transparency in the activities of mining companies, he is arrested and detained for no just cause. This subjective and unjust application of the law is not acceptable under any circumstances.”
Madagascar’s civic space is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society worldwide, and is a particularly risky environment for human rights defenders working on land and environmental rights.
On November 4, 2016, the Court of First Instance in the Anosy region sentenced environmental rights activists Tsihoarana Andrianony and Pierre Robson to one year in prison – suspended, after they were found guilty of organising “unauthorised” protests against Chinese mining company - Jiuxing Mining. A week later, three activists from the environmental rights association VONA were arrested and detained for taking part in peaceful protests. Andrianony and Robson were acquitted of four other charges and released after spending nearly five weeks in pre-trial detention in prison.
The arrest of Raleva and the persecution of environmental activists in Madagascar comes at a time when activists defending land, environmental and indigenous rights across the world raise their voices in appeals to the international community, calling for action against the unprecedented rise in killings and attacks on those protecting land and natural resources of their communities.
CIVICUS calls on the government of Madagascar to drop the charge against Raleva, release him unconditionally and ensure that human rights defenders are able to speak out without intimidation or fear of persecution.