Journalist and trade unionist charged with defamation for criticising an arbitrary arrest
On 15th June 2017, Marcel Libama, strategic adviser for the trade union confederation Dynamique Unitaire and leader of the trade union Conasysed (Convention nationale des syndicats du secteur éducation) was arrested in Tchibanga on charges of defamation. Libama had traveled to Tchibanga to attend the trial of his colleague Cyprien Mougouli, the provincial delegate of Conasysed who had been detained for one month on charges of organising a general assembly without authorisation. At the end of the trial, Libama gave an interview to a local radio station Massanga in which he denounced the arbitrary nature of the trial process against Mougouli. Two days later, the journalist who interviewed Libama, Juldes Bivinga, was also arrested after refusing to remove the content deemed defamatory by the prosecution. Libama and Biviga were charged with defamation, obstruction of justice and in contempt of a magistrate. Both received a prison sentence of 184 days, of which 139 were suspended, and both were fined 300,000 CFA (533 USD) on 13th July 2017.
In another incident on 16th June, masked men with guns, machetes and knives stormed the premises of four media outlets in Libreville in an effort to force them to broadcast a message from former presidential candidate Roland Désiré Aba’a Minko with an ultimatum for current President Bongo to step down within 72 hours in favor of opposition politician Jean Ping. The targeted media outlets were TV Plus, Africa No.1, Gabon Télévision and Canal 7. The attempt at Canal 7 was unsuccessful at the station was closed.
In another crackdown against dissent, on 15th June Gabon's National Council of Communication suspended the tri-weekly newspaper Echos du Nord for a period of two months for publicly insulting the president and the first minister of Gabon. As reported previously, the newspaper has been subjected to harassment before when their offices were raided on 3rd November 2016.
Gabon is ranked at 108th place on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, dropping eight places from its 2016 ranking. The Index cited restrictions in the Communication Code, which came into effect in January 2017, and the cuts in internet access and attacks on media preceding the August 2016 presidential elections as justification for the downgrade in ranking.
The government of Gabon suspended the activities of trade union Conasysed on 17th March 2017 through decision n°006/MIPDDL, citing "disturbance of public order" caused by a strike that has been ongoing since 12th October 2016. Conasysed is the primary trade union in the educational sector, and before the ban, the Minister of Education, Florentin Moussavu, had decreed a suspension on the payment of salaries to 807 teachers in order to end the strike.
Security forces dispersed around 200 people from the trade union coalition Dynamique Unitaire in Libreville on 1st May 2017, international Labour Day. Trade union members had gathered to decry the social crisis in the country. According to authorities, the assembly was not authorised and therefore considered illegal, even though Dynamique Unitaire claims to have informed the Ministry of the Interior of its intention to assemble on 1st May. Dynamique Unitaire also decided to boycott the official parade and ceremony organised on the same day by the government.
According to Gabon Review, another peaceful assembly was dispersed by a police unit using tear gas on 1st June 2017 in Moukabo. Protesters demanded an urgent and thorough investigation into the disappearance of two children, aged 4 and 5.