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Gabon6 November 2006

Editor gets provisional release when he has only two days left to serve

Norbert Ngoua Mezui, the editor of the fortnightly Nku’u Le Messager, was released provisionally two days before completing the 21-day prison sentence he began serving on 18 October. He received the sentence in 2003 but had never previously been made to serve it. Meanwhile, his lawyer’s appeal against the conviction on matters of substance will not now be heard until 11 December.

25.10.2006 - President Bongo asked to intercede on behalf of imprisoned editor

Reporters Without Borders wrote to President Omar Bongo yesterday asking him to do everything possible to obtain the release of Norbert Ngoua Mezui, the editor of the weekly Nku’u Le Messager, who was imprisoned on 18 October for a 21-day sentence which he received in 2003 but which he had never previously been made to serve.

The press freedom organisation told Bongo his intercession on behalf of Mezui was needed to defuse mounting tension and hostility, both between various newspapers and between the media as a whole and the Gabonese authorities.

Imprisoning a journalist “is an utterly inappropriate and disproportionate response to professional misconduct (...) and looks anachronistic in Gabon, where this form of punishment has not been used since 2000,” the letter said, pointing out that Gabon belongs to two organisations, the United Nations and the International Organisation of Francophone Countries (OIF), which have been calling for the decriminalization of press offences for years.

His imprisonment is all the more deplorable as the newspaper he founded, Nku’u Le Messager, is known for being serious and for appearing regularly, in a country where many newspapers are published only intermittently and are tools for waging veiled political struggles, the letter pointed out.

The letter finally suggested that the Gabonese judicial authorities had acted under “political pressure” as a result of a continuing media outcry resulting from allegations by two pro-governmental dailies, L’Union and Le Crocodile, that three ministers had pressured the president’s office to sell off the disputed island of Mbanié to neighbouring Equatorial Guinea.

On 21 October, the National Council for Communication (CNC) issued a solemn warning to two privately-owned newspapers and a formal notice to a third.

Reporters Without Borders holds that Mezui’s imprisonment is illegal for two reasons. Firstly, more than three years have gone by since his conviction in June 2003, and a three-year statute of limitations applies to the case. Secondly, the courts never ruled on the appeal filed by his lawyer against the conviction, and he could not therefore be made to serve the sentence until it has been confirmed on appeal.

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