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Media restrictions interfere with coverage of elections

The Gabonese authorities censored and harassed local and foreign journalists during the presidential elections on 30 August, report Journaliste en danger (JED), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"With restricted media access to polling stations, harsh warnings, intimidation and refusal to issue some foreign media with accreditation, the government is using all available means to keep news and information under tight control," RSF said. "It should understand that such behaviour will just fuel concern that the elections will not be free and fair."

According to JED, television station TV+, which aired an interview of the late President Omar Bongo, suddenly had its signal cut on orders from the National Communications Council. The station is owned by presidential candidate André Mba Obame, a former Interior Minister, says CPJ.

RSF says that only state media has been permitted to communicate election results based on data provided by the Interior Minister and the results will not be posted.

A foreign journalist told RSF, "We have been notified that any comment on the results that does not come from the Interior Ministry will be regarded as a projection or a poll, and will automatically result in our being deported from Gabon."

For instance, a team of French journalists from Africa 24 has been ordered to leave the country for reporting polling estimates considered unfavourable to the ruling party's candidate, says CPJ.

Meanwhile, a local journalist, who runs the private bimonthly "Tango" newspaper, told CPJ that his distributors were ordered not to distribute the latest edition, which included published photographs of police dispersing an opposition demonstration on 7 August.

JED is calling on the government to immediately lift the suspension on TV+, allow the media to freely disseminate and discuss the election results, and ensure the protection of journalists covering election activities.

BBC reported that the vote itself was peaceful but tense, with long lineups of voters. However, no official results have been published.

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