The Union of the Comoros is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country consists of three islands–Grande Comore (also called Ngazidja), Anjouan (Ndzuani), and Moheli (Mwali)–and claims a fourth, Mayotte (Maore), that France administers. In 2015 successful legislative elections were held. In April 2016 voters elected Azali Assoumani as president of the union, as well as governors for each of the three islands. Despite a third round of voting on Anjouan–because of ballot-box thefts–Arab League, African Union, and EU observer missions considered the elections generally free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
On July 30, Comorians passed a referendum on a new constitution, which modified the rotating presidency, abolished the islands’ vice presidents, and significantly reduced the size and authority of the islands’ governorates. On August 6, the Supreme Court declared the referendum free and fair, although the opposition, which had called for a boycott of the referendum, rejected the results and accused the government of ballot-box stuffing.
Human rights issues included torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; use of excessive force against detainees; restrictions on freedom of movement; corruption; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, trafficking in persons, and ineffective enforcement of laws protecting workers’ rights.
Impunity for violations of human rights was widespread. Although the government discouraged officials from committing human rights violations and sometimes arrested or dismissed officials implicated in such violations, they were rarely tried.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but there were some limitations on press freedom.
Freedom of Expression: In July the country adopted a new constitution, which establishes Islam as the state religion and notes, “the state will draw on Sunni principles and rules, and Shafi’i rites which regulate belief and social life.” The law establishes Sunni Islam under the Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference” and prohibits the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places on the basis that such religious practices would “affront” society’s cohesion and endanger “national unity.” The law does not permit an imam or preacher to preach or lead prayer, regardless of location, without prior approval.
Press and Media Freedom: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. Some journalists on all three islands practiced self-censorship.
Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to violence or harassment by government authorities due to their reporting.
On August 2, Faiza Soule Youssouf, chief editor of the government daily newspaper Al-Watwan, was accused by Interior Minister Mohamed Daoudou of tarnishing the country’s image by publishing a video on Facebook of a July 30 incident in which referendum opponents severed the hand of a gendarme who was securing the polling station. A week after the interior minister’s accusation, Youssouf was dismissed for alleged “serious misconduct, incitement to the rebellion of journalists, and abandoning of post.”
Censorship or Content Restrictions: According to press reports, in January the Gendarmerie detained two managers of Grande Comore-based Radio Kaz, allegedly to question them on the whereabouts of journalist Oubeidillah Mchangama. In July, after reports that journalists on Radio Kaz had made insulting statements regarding the interior minister, the National Council for Press and Audiovisual Media (CNPA) sanctioned the station for having violated information code guidelines. On August 21, the central prefecture suspended the station’s right to broadcast. On September 19, the CNPA made the suspension permanent, and the national regulator ANRTIC withdrew the station’s frequency, 107 FM.
Mchangama and fellow broadcaster Abdillah Abdou Hassane (“Agwa”) of Radio Baraka FM, which police shut down in late 2016 after Hassane was found guilty of defamation, remained in hiding as of September.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
On June 21, a peaceful march by the Mouvement du 17 Fevrier in Fomboni, Moheli, was dispersed by the police due to lack of Interior Ministry authorization, despite the claim by organizers that they had authorization from the mayor of Fomboni. The next day, opposition leaders Moustoifa Said Cheikh, Ahmed Wadaane, and Ibrahim Razida, were arrested for their role in the march and charged with mobbing, disturbing public order, and holding an unauthorized protest. On July 2, they were found guilty and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 Comorian francs ($358), but they were released after 20 days.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, and the government generally respected these rights. No specific constitutional or legal provisions deal with emigration and repatriation.
The country continues to claim sovereignty over the island of Mayotte, which France has administered since the island voted to remain part of France in a 1974 referendum in which the other three islands voted for independence. The government insists on the right of Comorians to travel freely to Mayotte despite the implementation of the so-called “Balladur Visa” in 1995, which prevents most Comorians from doing so. Consequently, clandestine migration to visit relatives, to seek medical care, or for other reasons, continued, prompting the repatriation of more than 20,000 Comorians per year.
In March the Union of the Comoros refused to admit its citizens being repatriated by France from Mayotte, without any consideration for the wishes of those being repatriated. In response France stopped issuing most visa types to Comorian citizens, and a standoff ensued. It was unclear whether the Comorians caught in the standoff wished to remain in Mayotte or return to their islands of origin. In October the governments of Comoros and France issued a joint statement announcing both sides were lifting their travel restrictions and that the details of a new cooperation issue to simultaneously improve conditions in Comoros and control legal migration would be signed by the end of November.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were no registered refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern in the country.