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Two Gabon outlets suspended for opposition coverage

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Opposition leader André Mba Obame addressed the nation Sunday via his broadcaster TV+. (CPJ)

New York, January 5, 2012--The government of Gabon, led by President Ali Bongo, on Tuesday imposed suspensions on a TV station and a newspaper for coverage of opposition leader André Mba Obame, according to local journalists and news reports.

The state-run National Communication Council announced on national public television the suspension of Obame-owned broadcaster TV+ for three months and the private weekly Echos Du Nord for two months, according to news reports.

The decision was based on TV+'s broadcast on Sunday of a new year's national address by Obame, who has proclaimed himself president and staged a swearing-in ceremony since rejecting the results of the 2009 presidential elections. Bongo was declared the winner of the polls, which were marred by political censorship of pro-opposition media outlets and allegations of vote-rigging, according to CPJ research. The Council sanctioned Echos du Nord for publishing in its Monday edition a transcription of Obame's address, editor Désiré Ename told CPJ, adding that the newspaper was denied the hearing it should have received prior to the decision as prescribed by Gabonese press laws.

"The suspensions imposed on TV+ and Echos Du Nord for covering the activities of Gabon's opposition leader constitute political censorship," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We condemn this decision, which further undermines the Council's credibility as an independent media regulatory agency."

On Wednesday, during a new year's speech to representatives of government institutions, Bongo called on the Council to crack down on "numerous daily slip-ups that certain media have specialized in for several months," according to news reports. Bongo appoints three of the nine members of the Council, including its chair, while the presidents of the two parliamentary chambers, who belong to Bongo's ruling Gabonese Democratic Party, appoint the rest. Since the Council's inception under the rule of Bongo's father, the late President Omar Bongo, it has been a tool of political censorship for the ruling party, which maintains control over the country's media and politics, CPJ research shows.

In October, the Council imposed months-long suspensions on five private newspapers, Ezombolo, La Griffe, La Voix du Peuple, Le Scribouillard and La Une, for alleged violation of journalism ethics and "incessant calls to insurrection and ethnic division," according to news reports. In June, the Council suspended Echos du Nord for one month over a front-page story covering an opposition politician's judicial complaint questioning the authenticity of the birth certificate Bongo used to file his candidacy for the 2009 election, according to news reports and local journalists.

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