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Gabonese govt again shuts down two magazines

afrol News, 21 May - The government of Gabon again has suspended the publication of two independent magazines, 'Misamu' and 'Le Temps' and warned two others. The National Communications Council (CNC), which supervises the press in Gabon, is observed to harden its crackdown on the few remnant of an independent press in the Central African country.

The suspension was a move that "looks like a campaign of intimidation against the privately owned press," the Paris-based watchdog group for press freedom, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), said in a statement yesterday.

The National Communications Council on 12 May ordered 'Misamu' - a magazine published twice every month - to cease publication because of a legal dispute over the ownership of the newspaper between Misamu's founder and current editor.

However, RSF noted that this decision followed the magazine's publication of an article, revealing the mysterious death of an aide-de-camp to Pascaline Bongo, the eldest daughter of President Omar Bongo, who is also the head of the President's office. 'Misamu' had accused Finance Ministry Secretary-General Eyamba Tsima Maurice Nestor of being behind the aide-de-camp's death.

Three days later, on 15 May, the government ordered a three months suspension for the weekly newspaper 'Le Temps'. The government reacted to a 14 May article, entitled "Over 50 billion CFA Francs [76 million euros] squandered in two nights", questioning the financing for an organisation that coordinates the independence celebrations in August.

The CNC thus accused the weekly's article of being "likely to undermine the nation's standing" and on that ground suspended the 'Le Temps' for three months. RSF protests the decision.

In addition, two other publications have by now received official warnings from the council. The first magazine, 'Jeunesse Action', has been warned after having published photographs of mutilated persons and of children being raped in its 12 to 19 May issue. The CNC said the images were likely to "offend readers' sensibilities."

Also the independent magazine 'L'Espoir', has been warned because it did not fill out the paperwork necessary for the launch of a new publication, as required under Gabon's strict Communications Code.

RSF commented that all these moves looked like "a campaign of intimidation against the privately owned press and is nothing more than a way of preventing the population from having access to more objective information and knowledge of different manoeuvres by the government."

The CNC has a long history of intimidating the independent press in Gabon, which already practices a large degree of self-censorship to avoid provoking government.

Only last year, on 6 September, the weeklies 'Misamu' and 'Gabaon' were suspended for three months by order of the council. The regulatory body thus accused the two newspapers of publishing news "that undermines confidence in the state and the dignity of those responsible for the republic's institutions." 'Misamu' was suspended for reporting on the "disappearance of 3 billion CFA francs (approx. 4.5 million euros) from the public treasury." 'Gabaon' was punished for "violently" criticising Senate President Georges Rawiri, according to the CNC.

- In Gabon, as soon as a newspaper denounces the misappropriation of funds or criticises the state's highest-level officials, it risks being censured or suspended, thus stated RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard in a letter to Prime Minister Jean-François Ntoutoume Emane.

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