Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned a new six-month ban slapped on the newspaper Ezombolo by the National Communications Council (CNC) on 21 May for “persistently insulting the head of state”, Ali Bongo
The CNC was responding to an article carried in the newspaper, headlined, “Ali does nothing but travel while the country is sinking”. The journalist referred to the exorbitant cost to Gabon of the president’s trips, while at the same time mocking his physical appearance.
“He had his hair frizzed like a drowned rat and was wearing a pair of windshields on his eyes that made him look like a Zulu welder”, the article said.
The CNC, which acted unilaterally, also pointed out that the newspaper had not paid its annual licence fee. It was the third suspension imposed on the paper, which publishes at irregular intervals, in less than five years.
“We see this new decision by the CNC as real hounding of the newspaper. This measure betrays the lack of tolerance on the part of the authorities towards a critical and irreverent press”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
The newspaper was suffering from unfair prejudice against it. The managing editor had to personally pay the rent and services while having to temporarily dismiss his journalists, it added.
“The reason given by the National Communications Council to justify the ban is completely false”, managing editor, Jean de Dieu Ndoutoum-Eyi, told Reporters Without Borders today. “Gabon’s 2002 communications code, which I know extremely well since I am on its editorial committee, does not contain a single article providing for an annual licence for the written press. The CNC is trying to pull the wool over our eyes”.
“In Gabon, journalists have to belong to the opposition or the ruling party. The problem with my newspaper is that it cannot be categorised. And that is what annoys the authorities. I write what I want to say and the various bans on me will not change my editorial line. I will never be involved in journalism that means bowing and scraping to Ali Bongo”, he added.
The editor said he would not this time be exercising his right to appeal to the CNC although it is permitted under Gabonese law. “The last time I did it, I never received any reply. I am not discouraged, I simply take responsibility. I will resume my journalistic activities at the end of the suspension period”, he said.