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Gabon: Charges against five human rights defenders and journalists
Front Line is concerned at the charges of 'possession of a document for dissemination for the purpose of propaganda’ and ‘oral or written propaganda for incitement of rebellion against state authorities’ brought against the following five human rights defenders and journalists, arrested in Libreville on 31 December 2008: Mr Marc Ona Essangui, national coordinator of Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Gabon, Mr Georges Mpaga, president of Réseau des organisations libres de la société civile pour la bonne gouvernance au Gabon – ROLBG (Gabonese civil society network for good governance), Mr Gregory Ngoua Minsta, public servant and plaintiff in a civil complaint lodged in Paris calling for an investigation into the assets acquired in France by the President of Gabon, Mr Gaston Asseko, technical director of Radio Saint-Marie, and Mr Dieudonne Koungou, journalist with the private magazine Tendance Gabon.
On 31 December 2008, the aforementioned human rights defenders and journalists were arrested by the police in Libreville. The five defenders have been held in preventive detention, without access to legal representation, beyond the maximum duration provided by law, which expired on 5 January. The reasons of their arrest remained unknown until 7 January, when they were charged with 'possession of a document for dissemination for the purpose of propaganda' and 'possession of a document for the purpose of oral or written propaganda and incitement to rebellion against the State authorities'. It is reported that the charges were brought in connection with an open letter published in France criticising the President of Gabon for his management of public assets. According to the lawyer of the five defenders, Georges Mpaga and Gregory Ngoua Minsta are ill and require medical assistance. Gaston Asseko requires urgent hospitalisation as he recently underwent surgery.
The arrest of Marc Ona Essangui is the last of a series of acts of intimidation against him and followed the travel ban placed on him in June 2008 and his arrest in July 2008 following a complaint he lodged against the Public Prosecutor.
Front Line believes that the aforementioned human rights defenders have been arrested as a result of their legitimate human rights activities, in particular their anti-corruption work and their support to recent strikes and social protests in Gabon. In particular, the arrest of Gregory Ngoua Minsta appears as a direct retaliation for the complaint he filed in Paris on 2 December 2008 against the President of Gabon for embezzlement of public funds.