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Gabon bans satirical tabloid for criticising President Bongo

An editorial critical of Gabon President Omar Bongo, Africa's longest-serving head of state, has led authorities in capital Libreville to arrest a publisher and suspend his newspaper.

Africa Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare (left) talks with Gabon's President Omar Bongo at the 9th African Union Summit in Accra July 1, 2007. (Reuters/Luc Gnago)

Guy-Christian Mavioga, director of the private periodical L'Espoir, has been in police custody since Thursday on accusations of offending the head of state in connection with a June 14 editorial headlined "The last days of Bongo," local journalists told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

A day after the arrest, the state media regulator (known by its French acronym CNC) suspended L'Espoir on grounds that Mavioga violated media laws prohibiting a civil servant or someone drawing civil servant benefits from controlling a newspaper, according to news reports. In an interview with CPJ, CNC spokesman Nestor Taylor denied the ruling was linked to the paper's content and declared the suspension would be lifted if Mavioga appointed a new director.

Several other newspapers have been headed by civil servants or individuals still drawing civil service benefits, including the state daily L'Union, headed by former information minister Albert Yangar, local journalists told CPJ.

Gabon's small private and financially vulnerable press is reeling from the government's crackdown on critical reporting in recent years. Since 2001, the CNC has banned seven publications and handed temporary suspensions to five newspapers and a television station in response to coverage critical of the government, according to CPJ.

Just last month, the satirical bimonthly Edzombolo resumed publishing after serving a three-month suspension handed by the CNC in connection with a February editorial critical of Bongo. CNC suspended the bimonthly for allegedly publishing “defamatory and insulting news directed at prominent state personalities,” according to local journalists and the news website Gabonews. The CNC did not identify the allegedly defamatory coverage; CNC officials did not immediately return messages from CPJ seeking comment.

"The suspension of L'Espoir and the detention of its publisher are part of a disturbing pattern of censorship and intolerance of criticism in Gabon," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "A newspaper has the right to run critical editorials and should not be intimidated into silence by accusations of offending an elected public figure. Guy-Christian Mavioga should be released immediately."

Mavioga, also head of a small pro-government political party, was the first journalist imprisoned in Gabon since the 21-day detention of Norbert Ngoua Mezuï in October 2006. Mezuï is president of the private press group known by its French acronym APPEL, according to CPJ.

Gabonese authorities have jailed journalists and banned newspapers in recent months over critical stories. The private weekly Les Echos du Nord was suspended for three months in October 2006 in connection with an article critical of government policy; the term was reduced to one month following a hunger strike by Director Désiré Ename. Also in October, the editor of a Libreville weekly was imprisoned for 21 days on a defamation charge. Mezui said he was wrongly jailed for coverage alleging the disappearance of treasury funds.

Date posted: July 4, 2007 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 9