Reporters Without Borders deplores the climate of fear that the authorities have created among the Gabonese media by arresting Albert Yangari, the well-known editor of the national daily L’Union, for several hours today.
“Today’s incident was clearly motivated by the government’s desire to intimidate journalists who dare to investigate sensitive subjects,” Reporters Without Borders said. “L’Union has displayed a commendable readiness to be outspoken in its reporting in the past three months and this should have been encouraged rather punished by the government.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We urge the authorities, especially interior minister Jean-François Ndongou and communication minister Laure-Olga Gondjout, to show some decency by respecting media diversity.”
A former tourism minister and one of Gabon’s most respected journalists, Yangari was arrested near Libreville’s Democracy Circle at around 10 a.m. as he was driving to work, and was taken to army intelligence headquarters by a detachment of Red Berets, one of the Gabonese army’s elite units.
“They interrogated me about all of the newspaper’s articles but especially those of the past few days about Port-Gentil,” Yangari told Agence France-Presse, adding that they also “lectured” him before freeing him in the early afternoon.
During the past two days, L’Union carried reports by Jonas Moulenda about the toll from the post-election violence in the western city of Port-Gentil, the stronghold of one of the opposition candidates in the recent presidential poll, Pierre Mamboundou.
The official figure is three dead, but the newspaper said “the number of victims could be as high as 22.” L’Union also claimed that at least three people were shot dead by soldiers, while the government insists that the army never opened fire.
The media have had to endure a great deal of tension in recent weeks with journalists being harassed and in some cases subjected to extortion by the authorities and by opposition supporters.
Equipment belonging to TV + Gabon, a station owned by another presidential candidate, André Mba Obame, has meanwhile just been seized in the interior of the country in compliance with order number 00644/MCPTNTI/SG, issued by communication ministry secretary-general Christophe Othamot on 18 September. Reporters Without Borders has a copy of the order.