The new Communications Code was criticized by journalists for its vague and overly broad provisions, and a newspaper was suspended. Prominent opposition supporters were arbitrarily arrested. The activities of the teachers’ unions were severely restricted. Representatives of the ICC conducted a two-day visit.
Presidential candidate Jean Ping continued to contest the results of the August 2016 presidential elections, and in September 2017 he was temporarily denied the right to leave the country. Legislative elections were postponed until April 2018. In November, the report submitted by Gabon and parallel reports submitted by civil society organizations were examined under the UN UPR process.
Freedoms of expression, association and assembly
In January, the new Communications Code came into force. The Code was criticized by journalists for its vague and overly broad provisions, including prohibitions on Gabonese nationals working for local media outlets outside the country, and provisions banning the use of pseudonyms, holding printers and distributors jointly responsible for any infractions, and an obligation for media to “contribute to the country’s image and national cohesion”.
On 17 March, the authorities suspended the activities of CONASYSED, the main teachers’ union, citing “disturbance of public order” caused by strikes that began in October 2016. The Minister of Education also ordered the suspension of the payment of salaries to over 800 teachers in order to end the strike.
In June 2017 the National Council of Communication banned Les Echos du Nord, a newspaper considered to be close to the political opposition, for statements deemed defamatory against President Bongo and Prime Minister Issoze-Ngondet. The outlet reopened in August.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
On 14 April, Alain Djally, an assistant to opposition leader Jean Ping, was arrested without a warrant in the capital, Libreville. He was blindfolded and ill-treated by men in plain clothes, but allowed to see his lawyer the day after his arrest. After that he was denied access. He was detained at the Direction Générale de la Recherche, a facility run by the Gabonese intelligence services, before being transferred to the central prison in Libreville, where he was kept in solitary confinement for the entire period of his detention. He was charged with impersonating an active service member and illegal possession of firearms, for retaining his old military ID card and possessing a blank-firing gun. His lawyer claimed such a weapon did not require a permit, and that the charges were politically motivated. He was provisionally released on 23 June.
On 15 June, Marcel Libama, an adviser for CONASYSED and the union confederation Dynamique Unitaire, was arrested in Tchibanga city after discussing the case of a detained colleague, Cyprien Moungouli, during a Radio Massanga show. He was held for three days at a police station, and on 20 June transferred to the local prison. He was charged with insulting a magistrate, obstruction of justice and defamation. On 17 June, Juldas Biviga, a journalist from Radio Massanga, was also arrested for refusing to delete recordings of archived interviews, among other things. On 13 July, both Marcel Libama and Juldas Biviga were severely beaten by their prison guards. Suffering injuries to his ankles, ribs and ears, Juldas Biviga was transferred to hospital. They both received sentences of 184 days in prison and a EUR450 fine.
On 27 August, security forces arrested Hervé Mombo Kinga, an activist and prominent supporter of Jean Ping. He had publicly projected videos next to his internet café, and was charged with “instigating violence” and “insulting the Head of State”, and spent one and a half months in solitary confinement. He remained in detention at the end of the year.
The ICC continued its preliminary examination into whether alleged crimes committed after May 2016, including in the context of the 2016 presidential elections, could amount to crimes under the Rome Statute, and whether the criteria for opening an investigation were met. In June, representatives of the ICC conducted a two-day visit.