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Two journalists released provisionally, still face trial on "propaganda" charges

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders notes that Gaston Asseko, the technical director of radio Sainte-Marie, and the three leading civil society members held in the same case were released provisionally on 12 January 2009 as was a police officer who was arrested with them. "Tendance Gabon" editor Léon Dieudonné Kougou, who was arrested with Asseko on 30 December 2008, was released provisionally on 7 January.

"Asseko's provisional release is excellent news for him and his family," Reporters Without Borders said. "He recently underwent an operation and his health deteriorated during these two weeks of detention. We now pin our hopes on the investigating judge's ability to recognise that there is no substance to these charges and to dismiss the case."

Asseko and his co-defendants were removed from Libreville prison late on 12 January and taken before an investigating judge, who announced they were being granted provisional release. Asseko told Reporters Without Borders he was "relieved" but said the 14 days in prison had taken their toll on him.

His lawyer, Ruphin Nkoulou-Ondo, told Reporters Without Borders that they were charged with "oral or written propaganda with a view to inciting a revolt against the authorities" and "possession of a document with the intention of disseminating it for propaganda purposes." The charges were like a "Sword of Damocles hanging over them," he added.

The document mentioned in the charges is an open letter to President Omar Bongo that was published in December 2008 by Bruno Ben Moubamba, the spokesman of a group called the "Free Actors of Gabonese Civil Society". It calls on Bongo to give an accounting of his management of the country's finances for the last 40 years.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a fine of 250,000 CFA francs (approx. 380 euros).

Updates the Asseko and Kougou cases: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99826

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