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Two journalists detained for reporting on embezzlement charges against the president

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is deeply disturbed by the detention of two journalists and three leading civil society members at the Libreville headquarters of the criminal investigation police. The five have been held for the past week - longer than the legal period for police custody - without any explanation being given. Other journalists have recently been questioned in connection with the case.

"The current climate of fear is without precedent in recent years in Gabon and is indicative of President Omar Bongo's readiness to hunt down all those who show too much interest in such subjects as the Bongo family's assets and the government's handling of public funds," Reporters Without Borders said. "The persecution of journalists must stop at once and the detainees much be released, as they have not been charged."

Gaston Asseko, the technical director of radio Sainte-Marie, and Léon Dieudonné Kougou, the editor of the privately-owned fortnightly "Tendance Gabon", were arrested by intelligence officers on 30 December 2008 and taken to the headquarters of the criminal investigative police. Contrary to reports, Reporters Without Borders can confirm that they have not been released. Asseko recently underwent an operation and needs medical follow-up.

Although no official reason has been given for their arrest, everything suggests that it was prompted by their participation in a meeting in Libreville with a representative from a Paris-based NGO.

The two journalists have also been covering the complaint brought before the French courts by the French chapter of Transparency International (TI) and a French NGO, Sherpa, accusing the presidents of Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea of embezzlement and misuse of public funds in connection with the acquisition of luxury property in France.

"Tendance Gabon" was suspended for three months on 11 March 2008 for reprinting a report from the French daily "Le Monde" about President Bongo's up-market real estate holdings in France.

The day after the arrest of Asseko and Kougou, three other people were arrested and taken to criminal investigative headquarters. They were Marc Ona Essangui, head of the NGO Brainforest and spokesman of the coalition Publish What You Pay (PCQVP), Georges Mpaga, a PCQVP member and head of the Network of Free Civil Society Organisations for Good Governance in Gabon (ROLGB), and Gregory Ngbwa Mintsa, a Gabonese citizen who is the only African to add his name to the Paris lawsuit filed by TI and Sherpa.

Reporters Without Borders wrote to President Bongo on 2 January 2009 urging him to explain the arrests of the journalists and civil society leaders and to ensure that their rights were respected. No reply has been received.

For further information on the previous suspension of "Tendance Gabon", see:: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91653

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