Masked men with machetes and knives attack four media outlets

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the simultaneous attacks that masked men armed with machetes and knives launched against four radio and TV stations in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, on 16 June in an attempt to get them to broadcast a threatening video message by a former presidential candidate.

The four media outlets targeted by the presumed supporters of former presidential candidate Roland Désiré Aba’a Minko were TV+, Radio Africa No. 1, Gabon Télévision and Kanal 7. Minko’s message called for the president’s resignation.

At TV+, a privately-owned opposition TV channel, employees were forced to lie on the ground and a “bomb” was placed among them. At Radio Africa No. 1, a pan-African radio station, employees were threatened with machetes and knives and a “bomb” inside a bag. Both bombs turned out to be fakes.

The attackers managed to get into state-owned Gabon Télévision but quickly left when the security forces arrived. They tried to get into Kanal 7 but failed because it was closed. As Radio Africa No. 1 did not have the technical means to broadcast the assailants’ video message, it was only broadcast by TV+.

“We strongly condemns these intolerable and unprecedented attacks on Gabonese media outlets, said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. We welcome the fact that an investigation is under way and we hope that all possible light will be shed on the responsibilities of the assailants without obstructing freedom of expression and information in Gabon.”

Initially a candidate in last August’s presidential election, Minko stood down two days before the poll, urging his supporters to vote for the main opposition candidate, Jean Ping.

In the message that was finally broadcast only by TV+ for about 15 minutes, Minko threatened to set off bombs in government locations if President Ali Bongo did not resign in favour of Ping within 72 hours. Minko subsequently turned up with a fake bomb at the offices of the European Union delegation, where he was arrested without putting up any resistance.

Franck Nguema, the head of TV+, filed a complaint the same day and referred the matter to the ministry of defence and interior. The justice department has opened a judicial investigation.

The entire Gabonese political class, including Ping’s spokesperson, has condemned the attacks. President Bongo’s widely disputed reelection eight months ago set off a major political crisis and led to attacks on media outlets of all tendencies.

International Criminal Court representatives are due to begin a three-day visit to Gabon tomorrow to investigate the post-election violence.

Gabon is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, having fallen 13 places since 2015.

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Mise à jour le 19.06.2017