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Gabon26 December 2003

Reporters Without Borders dismayed at escalation in suspensions and seizures of independent newspapers

Reporters Without Borders has expressed its disquiet at the escalation in censorship of the independent press since May 2003. All newspapers printed outside the country are being intercepted and their contents checked before they can be distributed. Sub-Version, La Sagaie and Misamu have been banned for several months. L’Autre Journal was suspended on 18 December, three days after the death, in dubious circumstances, of its editor in chief Marco Bokoukou Boussaga.

"The independent press has been coming under ever greater pressure for several months with bans on publication, seizures and trials. Everything is being done to silence dissenting voices and to control the content of the news," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, urging the authorities to lift the bans on Sub-Version, Misamu, La Sagaie, and L’Autre Journal. "The death in unclear circumstances of Mr. Boussaga, raises a lot of questions," he added. "We call on the authorities to ensure a thorough and open investigation into the exact causes of his death." The bi-monthly L’Autre Journal, launched in mid-November, was officially suspended on 18 December for an indefinite period. The National Communications Council (CNC) justified the step by the "defamatory nature of articles headlined, ’Frequent and prolonged absences of the head of state’ and ’Gabon is paying the salaries of Central African officials,’" that appeared in the first edition of the bi-monthly. Moreover the CNC said that L’Autre Journal had not complied with the correct method of registering its employees nor of its legal guarantee. Police seized copies of the second edition at Libreville airport on 12 December.

Three days before the suspension was announced, on 15 December, the editor in chief of the newspaper died from a sudden haemorrhage from the nose and ears after returning from a dinner with local officials. According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, Boussaga was not suffering from any illness. His family has refused to comment and let it be known that they did not want there to be a post mortem examination. The CNC ordered the bi-monthly Misamu to halt publication on 12 May for having suggested a top official could be implicated in a murder case. The third edition of Sub-Version, printed in Cameroon, was seized at Libreville international airport on 17 September and four members of the editorial staff were arrested and questioned. The bi-monthly was accused of inciting people to "insurrection" and "seeking to undermine republican institutions". La Sagaie was banned indefinitely on 23 September and accused of "appealing to tribalism" and "threatening state security". None of these suspensions has been lifted.

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