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Climate of fear takes hold in Gabon following arrests of two journalists and three activists

Two journalists and three leading civil society members have been detained at the Libreville headquarters of the criminal investigation police of Gabon for the past week—longer than the legal period for police custody—without any explanation being given. Other journalists have been questioned in connection with the case in the past few days, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported.

“The current climate of fear is without precedent in recent years in Gabon and is indicative of President Omar Bongo’s readiness to hunt down all those who show too much interest in such subjects as the Bongo family’s possessions and the government’s handling of public funds,” RSF said. “The persecution of journalists must stop at once and the detainees much be released, as they have not been charged.”

Gaston Asseko, the technical director of radio Sainte-Marie, and Léon Dieudonné Kougou, the editor of the privately-owned fortnightly Tendance Gabon, were arrested by intelligence officers on December 30 and taken to the headquarters of the criminal investigative police. Contrary to reports, RSF can confirm that they have not been released. Asseko recently underwent an operation and needs medical follow-up.

Although no official reason has been given for their arrest, everything suggests that it was prompted by their participation in a meeting in Libreville with Bruno Ben Moubamba, the spokesperson of the Free Actors of Gabonese Civil Society, who had come from Paris.

The two journalists have also been covering the complaint brought before the French courts by the French chapter of Transparency International (TI) and a French NGO, Sherpa, accusing the presidents of Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea of embezzlement and misuse of public funds in connection with the acquisition of luxury property in France.

Tendance Gabon was suspended for three months on March 11, 2008 for reprinting a report from the French daily Le Monde about President Bongo’s upmarket real estate holdings in France.

The day after the arrest of Asseko and Kougou, three other people were arrested and taken to criminal investigative police headquarters. They were Marc Ona Essangui, the head of the NGO Brainforest and spokesman of the coalition Publish What You Pay (PCQVP), Georges Mpaga, a PCQVP member and head of the Network of Free Civil Society Organisations for Good Governance in Gabon (ROLGB), and Gregory Ngbwa Mintsa, a Gabonese citizen who is the only African to add his name to the Paris lawsuit filed by TI and Sherpa.

RSF wrote to President Bongo on January 2 urging him to explain the arrests of the journalists and civil society leaders and ensure that their rights are respected. No reply has been received.

Date posted: January 8, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 250