Gabon November 23, 2009

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President Ali Bongo Ondimba
Republic of Gabon
c/o Embassy of Gabon
2034 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009

Excellency:

Together with other organizations concerned with human rights and freedom of the press the Overseas Press Club of America is alarmed by the continuing and apparently increasing efforts by Your Excellency’s government to muzzle and intimidate the press in Gabon.

Most recently, following your election, six newspapers have been suspended for periods ranging from one to three months by the National Communications Council (CNC). In addition, the CNC suspended the popular TV program, “Entre Nous”, broadcast by Canal Espoir. There is apparently no appeal from the decisions of the CNC.

These efforts to silence criticism began almost immediately after your election when Albert Yangari, the respected editor of L’Union, was picked up and taken to army intelligence headquarters where for several hours he was questioned and lectured about what his role should be. This happened despite the fact that L’Union is a government-owned daily newspaper.

During your father’s long rule, of course, the same pattern of intimidating the press existed. I need only remind Your Excellency that last December Habib Bilalou of the satirical weekly, Le Nganga, was beaten by soldiers inside the presidential compound and suffered a broken leg, broken ribs and facial bruises.

We are fully aware that a free press can be irritating, inaccurate, even irresponsible and outrageous. Nevertheless, the freedom of the press to report what it wants and say what it thinks is a basic right recognized around the world in national constitutions and international agreements. This right exists for the very good reason that without objective and critical observers there is little to control our representatives and little reason to trust them.

The Overseas Press Club, which has been defending the rights of the press around the world for seven decades, urges Your Excellency the review your government’s policies towards the press, which, as they are now, can only injure your people and damager the reputation of Gabon in the eyes of the world.

Sincerely,
Jeremy Main
Kevin McDermott
Co-chairmen—Freedom of the Press Committee

Cc:

The Hon. Carlos Victor Boungou
Ambassador of the Republic of Gabon
2034 20th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

The Hon. Eunice S. Reddick
United States Ambassador to the Republic of Gabon
Blvd. du Bord du Mer BP 4000
Libreville, Gabon
usembassylibreville@state.gov

M. Albert Yangari, Directeur
L’Union
BP 3849 Ancien Sobraga
Libreville, Gabon

Mr. Grégoire Lomba
Counsellor
Permanent Mission of the Gabonese Republic to the UN
18 East 41st St., 9th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Fax: +1 212 689 5769
lombagregoire@yahoo.com

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