Jailed Gabonese journalist hospitalized, sentenced

New York, August 1, 2007— The director of a private newspaper in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, was handed a suspended prison term and a fine today, but could not appear in court after he was hospitalized as the result of poor detention conditions, local journalists told CPJ.  

“We condemn this verdict and call on Gabonese President Omar Bongo to deliver on his 2004 pledge to eliminate prison sentences for press offenses,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We hold the Gabonese authorities responsible for the well-being of Guy-Christian Mavioga, who should not have been thrown in prison with criminals for writing a dissenting editorial.”

Mavioga, director of the private periodical L’Espoir,has been jailed since June 28 in connection with an editorial critical of Bongo. He was under the watch of prison guards at Libreville’s main hospital when a court sentenced him to one month in prison, a five-month suspended prison term, a fine of 250,000 CFA francs (US$530) and the symbolic payment of one CFA franc (less than one US cent) to Bongo, according to local journalists and defense lawyer Gisele Eyue Bekale. He was expected to be released on Saturday after already spending more than a month in prison, Bekale told CPJ.

Mavioga was rushed from Libreville’s central prison to the emergency room early Monday morning for treatment of respiratory problems and back pain—conditions he began to suffer during his incarceration, Bekale said.

The Gabonese government arrested Mavioga and indefinitely suspended his newspaper on charges of offending the state in connection with his editorial, headlined “The Last Days of Bongo.” Bongo is Africa’s longest-serving head of state, having ruled Gabon since 1967.

The outcome of the trial was not a surprise, Bekale said, describing it as “a contest between an elephant and a fly.”

Mavioga was the first Gabonese journalist sentenced to prison for critical journalism since Norbert Ngoua Mezuï in October 2006.