Media regulator HAC suspends several media outlets


National media regulator Haute Autorité de la communication (HAC), created in February 2018 to replace the National Council of Communication, suspended several media outlets in the past few months. On 8th November 2018, the HAC suspended the newspaper L'Aube for a period of three months for having published an article on the state of President Bongo's health. The article 'Gabon, in a (very dangerous) automatic pilot', published on 7th November, asked why the absence of the President has not triggered the constitutional provision regarding the vacancy of power. The state of health of the president was long shrouded in secrecy, until the presidential spokesperson said on 11th November that the president was doing well after being admitted in a hospital in Riyadh in late October. In addition to the suspension of the newspaper, editor of L'Aube Orca Boudiandza Mouellé was banned from practicing his profession as a journalist for a period of six months. 

In August 2018, several media outlets were suspended. The most severe sanction was given to France 2, which was suspended on 22nd August 2018 from broadcasting programs in the country for a period of one year. The suspension relates to the airing of the documentary Le clan Bongo, une histoire française (The clan Bongo, a French history) by the channel on the eve of 17th August. The HAC deemed the documentary as "subversive", "of the nature to disturb order" and as an "attack on institutions of the Republic". The documentary, which is very critical of president Ali Bongo, created controversy when it first aired in Gabon in July 2017. On 28th August - five days after HAC's initial decision - the suspension of France 2's programs was reduced from one year to three months, after France 2 lodged a request to revise the suspension. 

On the same day, the HAC also suspended the tri-weekly Echos du Nord for a period of one month for failing to comply with a summons from the media regulator. The HAC had summoned the publishing directors of both Echos du Nord and L'Aube in relation to articles they published on the purchase of luxurious cars by the vice-president Pierre Claver Maganga-Moussavou. As reported previously, Echos du Nord was suspended before, in June 2017, and were subjected to harassment when their offices were raided in November 2016. Cable TV channels distribution operator TV Satcon saw its license suspended for three months for pirating the Beinsport channel. Satcon had received a warning earlier on 8th August to stop broadcasting of Beinsport's programs. 

Earlier on 9th August 2018, the HAC suspended the weekly La loupe for a period of one month for publishing comments deemed to violate journalistic ethics. The suspension relates to the publication of its 391st edition, on 7th August, titled 'Here are the "parasites" of the Republic', referring to government associates. The edition was retracted immediately from the kiosks. Media organisation Organisation patronale des médias du Gabon (Opam; Organisation of Media Owners of Gabon) condemned the decision in a press statement on 10th August requesting the HAC to reconsider the suspension. President of Opam Guy Pierre Biteghe asked the HAC to: 

"reconsider the sanction against the newspaper La loupe, in the interest of the image of Gabon whose repeated attacks on the freedom of the press correspond to a worst classification every year by the international bodies charged with monitoring the respect of human rights and freedoms." (translated from French)

On 23rd July 2018, the HAC suspended local television channel Media+ for a "lack of courtesy" after they refused an HAC inspection to their premises in Port-Gentil . Arnaud Froger of Reporters without Borders said

"Created just a few months ago, the HAC has sent a disturbing signal to the Gabonese media by imposing this disproportionate sanction on a media outlet that refused to open its doors to a HAC visit".

Media+ was allowed to continue their broadcasts a few days later. 

Peaceful Assembly

The Minister of Interior banned a protest of trade unions, which was planned for 13th August 2018, to protest against austerity measures taken by the Gabonese government in June 2018 to reduce the costs to the operation of the state, affecting public servants. Minister Lambert-Noël Matha said the unions' request was inadmissible because the object of the protests (to protest against austerity measures taken by the government) was pending before the Constitutional Court, and asked the unions to await the ruling of the Court.

On 28th August 2018, about 28 people were detained as they tried to hold a new protest, organised by union confederation Dynamique unitaire, against the austerity measures. Minister of Interior Lambert Matha issued a statement on the evening of 27th August, saying the planned protest "did not receive authorization of the competent services", and security forces were deployed at the meeting point in the morning of the protest. Among those detained was journalist Morel Mondjo of Gabon Media Time, who was covering the protest. All were released after a couple of hours. 

Jean-Rémy Yama, president of Dynamique unitaire said to RFI: 

"Maybe the minister did not have time to send us the ban (but) the law is clear: the ban must reach the demonstrators 48 hours before [the protest] ... You understand that we are not in a democratic country: protest is the expression of democracy!" (translated from French)