The country’s media regulator, the HAC has repeatedly imposed summary sanctions on journalists for broaching the subject of the president’s health, which has been off limits ever since he suffered a stroke ten months ago.
Goma, who is also the editor of the news website Gabon Actu, is banned from working for two months from yesterday because of his coverage of an Independence Day military parade on 17 August, at which President Bongo made his first public appearance in front of Gabonese people since his stroke.
In an article headlined “Gabon’s Independence Day’s parade dominated by Ali Bongo’s presence,” Goma noted that “at no point did the president stand up, as he formerly did, in order to greet the passage of his army’s units in front of the tribune.”
The article was “inaccurate and malicious, questioning the president’s physical health,” the HAC said, imposing its ban – which cannot be appealed – without giving Goma any chance to defend himself.
“The HAC has once again used its prerogatives in a completely disproportionate manner with the same aim of protecting the president,” RSF’s Africa desk said. “We call for this sanction to be lifted at once, because it constitutes yet another unwarranted restriction on press freedom by an authority that is supposed to defend it.”
In November 2018, the HAC suspended the newspaper L’Aube for three months and banned its editor, Orca Boudiandza Mouelé, from working for six months because of an article about President Bongo’s lengthy hospitalization after the stroke. In June of this year, the newspaper Fraternité was banned for a month over article questioning Bongo’s ability to govern since the stroke.
In a press release in June, RSF described the HAC as the Gabonese media’s “executioner” because of the arbitrary sanctions it has repeatedly imposed since its creation by government decree in February 2018. The HAC needs a complete overhaul so that journalists are allowed to serve the public interest by addressing all subjects, even the most politically sensitive ones, RSF said.
Gabon is ranked 115th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.