Monday 15.8.2016 in Latest Developments in Gabon Country Page
Tensions continue to increase as presidential elections, scheduled for 27th August, approach. On 8th July, the day preceding the start of the presidential race, a military operation was launched allowing the government to deploy security forces and giving them wide powers on the basis of alleged terrorist concerns. The following day, police repressed a demonstration by the political opposition and civil society groups against the candidacy of outgoing president Ali Bongo Ondimba. Police arrested 26 people, including 15 civil society activists. Over the course of the following week, opposition meetings were disrupted, while several union leaders and a group of young activists were detained. On 23rd July, authorities also disrupted a peaceful demonstration by the opposition coalition Union Sacrée pour la Patrie (USP).
On 4th August, civil society activists held a press conference in which they demanded the release of their leader and a dozen other activists arrested on 9th July. In turn, members of the citizen group Dynamique Unitaire held a press conference demanding the release of the teachers’ union leader Jean Rémi Yama. On the same day, some of the United Opposition Front for Alternation (FOPA) and a civil society delegation jointly announced the launch of a national protest campaign in defence of the public freedoms which are being “threatened by the very authorities in charge of protecting them”.
After a hearing on 5th August, three union leaders including Yama were remanded in custody until trial. Many young protestors who were under arrest, including two from the movement Héritage et Modernité were provisionally released. According to the organisation’s spokesman, they had been detained “arbitrarily because their file is empty”.
Journalists were specifically targeted during the demonstrations in July. As a result of the police crackdown on the peaceful protest of 23rd July, AFP correspondent Jean Rovis Dabany was beaten with batons and trampled by masked policemen even though his press sticker was on display and he was carrying his camera. Men in fatigues also hit and snatched cameras from two AFP and Radio Television Nazareth (RTN) correspondents. The journalists suffered the effects of tear gas along with the rest of the demonstrators.