Madagascar church leader appeals for support following ‘harassment’

March 10, 2011

NAIROBI

The leader of the largest Protestant group in Madagascar has appealed for support over “harassment” of church leaders after the government accused the group of running an illegal radio station in one of its orphanages.

“We ask for your prayers and support as we do not know what will happen in the near future as the HAT (the de facto government called the High Authority of Transition, or HAT), continues interrogating and arresting our people,” said the Rev. Lala Rasendrahasina, president of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) ― a partner church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ― in a statement received by ENInews on March 3.

He said the government had alleged the church was running a “pirate” radio station which it found broadcasting on Feb. 18 from Topoza, a church orphanage in the capital, Antananarivo.

Orphanage director Tantely Rakotoarivony was accused of running the station, he said. “She was also detained on Feb. 25. She is still in custody," he said.

Rasendrahasina said the radio station was unknown to FJKM, although the officials and the president are accused by the government of giving orders to Rakotoarivony to let the radio broadcast from the center. “This is one fact among others used by the government to persecute the church and its leaders,” he said.

“We find and understand these charges as mere allegations and harassment towards FJKM and churches as I am also the chairperson of the Christian Council in Madagascar this year,” he said.

He also said he was beaten and detained in March 2009 following the resignation of President Marc Ravalomanana, who was also a senior member of FJKM. He was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of Antananarivo in 2009, setting off a political crisis. The crisis has divided the island community and threatened the unity of the churches.

While attending the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee meeting in Geneva from Feb. 16- 22, Rasendrahasina said the churches there were steering for peace in the midst of the conflict.

“The church has never ceased to find a way to help the nation out of this crisis and to maintain peace,” said Rasendrahasina who is a member of the Central Committee. “We have never ceased to pray for the nation since March 2009. The church has had to mediate between politicians but because of various factors, the results have not always been as successful as we would hope,” he said.

About 2.5 million of Madagascar's 21 million people belonging to the FJKM, making it the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

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