Reports received by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches indicated that the president of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), Lala Rasendrahasina, was released after only a brief detention. The FJKM is a member of Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
In a March 18 joint statement, WARC and the London-based Council for World Mission appealed for calm in Madagascar.
“Our concern at this time is for the peace and welfare of all the people of Madagascar. We recognize the role that churches in Madagascar might play in reconciliation initiatives at this time and we pray for wisdom and understanding to guide their way,” said the statement from general secretaries Desmond van der Water of CWM and Setri Nyomi of WARC.
President Ravalomanana, who is also a senior lay official of the FJKM, announced his resignation on March 17 following a campaign by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina to force him out of office.
News agencies were reporting the following day that Madagascar’s military had handed power to Rajoelina and that this had been approved by the country’s constitutional court.
There was no immediate information about the circumstances of the release of the FJKM’s Rasendrahasina. On March 17, the Xinhua Chinese news agency,
quoting a local radio station, reported that the church leader had been detained at the headquarters of the Christian Council of Churches in downtown Antananarivo, the island nation’s capital. The agency also reported that a four-member military directorate, to whom President Ravalomanana had initially transferred his powers, had been detained at the same time.
Rasendrahasina had earlier reported that he had received two threats that his home would be “burned out”, and that he and other pastors had hired security guards.
Some observers have said tensions have been exacerbated by the prominent role of Ravalomanana as the lay vice-president of the FJKM, which accounts for 3.5 million of Madagascar’s 20 million people, while Rajoelina has been reported to have made no secret of his links to the numerically stronger Roman Catholic Church.
The Indian Ocean island nation has been gripped by a violent political crisis, which has caused at least 135 deaths since a dispute over democratic reform broke out in late January.
Rajoelina had been attempting to force out Ravalomanana, who came to power in a disputed 2002 election and who Rajoelina accused of being a corrupt tyrant.