New York, May 27, 2009--The Committee to Protect
Journalists is alarmed by the government of Gabon's crackdown on independent
media coverage of President Omar Bongo's hospitalization and potential succession
On Saturday, the state-run National Communication Council (known by its French acronym as CNC) summarily suspended from circulation the monthly Ezombolo and the satirical weekly Le Nganga over articles speculating on succession infighting among Bongo's advisors, according to local journalists and news reports.
On Monday, authorities in the capital,
The incident came on the heels of CNC criticism of French media coverage of Bongo's hospitalization. On Saturday, the CNC accused France 24 and French satellite broadcasters LCI, I-telé, and Radio France Internationale (RFI) "of broadcasting unofficial and alarmist information regarding the president's health condition," according to Agence France-Presse. The CNC also issued a warning to RFI and satellite provider Canal Overseas to abide by agreements with the government of the former French colony that call for "respect of public order, the security of the country, national unity, good morals and the dignity of citizens."
"President Bongo's health is a matter of public concern,"
said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator
Ezombolo Managing Editor Jean de Dieu Ndoutoum-Eyi and Le Nganga reporter Harrys Kombila told CPJ today their publications will appeal the suspensions.
Authorities have targeted the newspapers before for their critical coverage. In March 2007, the CNC suspended Ezombolo for allegedly publishing "defamatory and insulting news directed at prominent state personalities;" the agency did not identify the allegedly defamatory coverage. In December 2008, Habib Papy Boubendji, a journalist with Le Nganga, was summoned to the Gabonese presidential office and severely beaten by presidential guards, according to local journalists.
In recent years, Gabonese authorities have used imprisonment,
seizures, temporary suspensions, or banning
from circulation to silence critics over sensitive topics including Bongo's wealth
and health. An international
legal complaint filed in