Covering events from January - December 2003

Arbitrary detention was used to intimidate and suppress political opposition. Union government forces used excessive force to break up demonstrations; one protester reportedly died as a result. Judicial independence continued to be eroded.


The political stalemate which followed the devolution of power in June 2002 persisted. By the end of 2003, the issue of the separation of powers between the president of the Union and the presidents of the constituent islands had not been resolved. Legislative elections scheduled for March and April, the last step in a three-year peace process, were deferred as a result. Strikes by magistrates on Nzwani (Anjouan) led to their dismissal by the Nzwani government which took control of the judiciary in February.


On 24 March government forces opened fire on primary and secondary school students demonstrating in Moroni. Three students were wounded and another was reportedly killed. A number of demonstrators were detained and allegedly beaten. The students had organized the demonstration in support of a strike by teachers over unpaid salaries which had lasted 45 days.

Conditions of detention

Prison conditions remained harsh. Cells were severely overcrowded and many had no beds or mattresses. Sanitary facilities were minimal and food had to be provided by prisoners' families.

Crack-down on opposition

Union government supporters forcibly disrupted political meetings organized by opposition parties or island governments. Political opponents of both the island and Union governments were allegedly tortured in military camps and held in unofficial detention facilities. Two ministers on the island of Ngazidja (Grand Comore) and an adviser to the island's president were arrested in February on grounds of state security. One of the ministers was detained for nearly four months before being released without charge.

Freedom of expression

A number of publications ceased operation owing to financial and political pressures. Several journalists, including Ibrahim Youssouf, were beaten by soldiers and had their equipment seized or broken when they were reporting on a demonstration that ultimately did not take place. A number of journalists were detained, including Morad Aït-Habbouche who was held from 22 to 27 September. Izdine Abdou Salam, a journalist held since November 2001, was released in February without charge.

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