Justice Politics Transparency

The Seychelles Independent Is In President Ramkalawan’s Crosshairs

Taking a page out of the playbook of Russia’s strongman, Ramkalawan has commenced his crackdown on independent media in Seychelles

The story which one would have anticipated to be making waves recently in Seychelles is the surprising banning of the Seychelles Independent News (SIN) from presidential press conferences by Wavel Ramkalawan. Claiming, quite strangely, that the country was “moving towards a more serious media”, the President took the decision to ban the publication from press conferences on the basis of the claim that they were publishing defamatory material about his administration.

The move was strongly criticised by the Association of Media Practitioners Seychelles (AMPS), who condemned the President’s “ostracising” of the Seychelles Independent and sought to engage with the Statehouse on the issue to no avail. Strangely, despite the above-mentioned reasons given for the paper’s banning from presidential press conferences, the issue had never been raised with AMPS, whose responsibilities including addressing such issues among their media house members. Similarly, AMPS denied having any knowledge of the impending ban, despite the fact that the President’s office claimed the contrary. This was compounded by further discrepancies between reasons the President gave inquiring journalists and the written explanation given by his Chief Press Secretary.

It is also unclear if this banning of the Seychelles Independent from presidential press conferences was a standalone move or potentially the first of further steps planned against the Independent, and perhaps other media outlets in Seychelles. According to a press release by the organization, “AMPS sees the actions of State House in ostracising SIN as being detrimental to the progress the country has clawed back in regards to freedom of the press and freedom of expression”.

This is not the first time President Ramkalawan has run into trouble with issues of freedom of the press. The President came under fire recently for quite a few issues related to media censorship. Earlier this year the CEO of the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) Berard Dupres, expressed his concern with undue political pressure being exerted against his organization to cover issues from a perspective that is more favourable to the government.

The critique was levied in an interview with esteemed Seychellois radio presenter Patsy Canaya, in which he explained the way in which the President attempted to control the extent to which opposition activities of the United Seychelles party were covered in the media. He did this by threatening to leverage the state budget against the nation’s official broadcast authority if they did not fall in line with his demands.

And now it is the Seychelles Independent which the President has his eyes on. What perhaps is not clearly understood by the President and his strategic advisors is that journalists reporting in a country without media censorship need not be accountable to political authority. In fact one of the most basic elements of a democracy is the checks and balances afforded by the press which, along with NGO’s, have the uniquely important role of overseeing government activities and critiquing these when they diverge from what is expected of leadership authority.

Ramkalawan has most probably been taking his cues from Russian President Putin, a close associate of his, and actually one of the few friends the president still has left after his invasion of Ukraine. Putin earlier this year criminalized any form of criticism of his country’s armed forces in the media, making it a crime punishable with up to 15 years in prison. In an explanation that is strikingly similar to the one given by Ramkalawan, Putin, through Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, claimed the law was necessary as a result of disinformation campaigns being run against the government. Pressure against independent media in Russia is nothing new. In fact independent media these days is almost non-existent in Russia, with nearly all either having been either shuttered by the government or forced to close for one reason or another.

If only Ramkalawan could wield the same control over domestic media in Seychelles he surely would have already exerted full control over their operations a long time ago. The international community should be concerned. With a regime both acting with complete impunity domestically, and cosying up too one of the world’s worst autocratic regimes, it will certainly not be long before the West finds itself with a significant challenge on Africa’s Eastern flank.

By Kate Flask

Kate Flask is an American freelance writer and digital nomad who studied creative writing in the UK. She has a personal and professional interest in East Africa and Indian Ocean Islands and Runs Seychelles Watch.

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