Soldiers guard Gabon's election commission. (AFP/Getty)
Soldiers guard Gabon's election commission. (AFP/Getty)

Gabonese media under attack since election

New York, September 3, 2009Five journalists and a TV station covering Gabon’s disputed presidential election, which has already been marred by media censorship, have been attacked since Wednesday, according to local journalists and news reports.

Official results announced today declared Ali Ben Bongo–son of Omar Bongo, the late 41-year ruler of the oil-rich, equatorial nation–the winner of Sunday’s vote between 18 candidates, but challenges to the results turned to violent unrest. Journalists and media outlets with perceived partisanship to Bongo or his rivals have come under attack. 

Today, supporters of Bongo’s rivals gathered in front of the national elections commission attacked four journalists from Radio Télévision Nazareth, a Christian station belonging to candidate Georges Bruno Ngoussi, according to local journalists. RTN Editor-in-Chief Jonas Moukala, copy editor Jean Corneille Mangoungou, reporter Parfait Sadibi, and cameraman Juste Ndjana suffered minor injuries while their equipment was damaged, Mangoungou told CPJ from a local clinic in the capital, Libreville.

“Politicians must prevent their supporters from attacking journalists and media outlets seen as supporting their rivals,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on all parties and the authorities to ensure the safety of journalists covering the election.”

On Wednesday, at around 8 p.m., supporters of candidate Pierre Mamboundou assaulted copy editor Patrick Bibang of international broadcaster Africa Numero 1. Bibang was not seriously injured. The militants later apologized, he said, adding that he was mistaken for a journalist from local station Télé Africa, which the militants perceived to be pro-government.

At around 3 a.m. on Wednesday, masked gunmen riddled the satellite uplink of candidate André Mba Obame‘s international broadcaster, Go Africa TV, with bullets, according to news reports. The Interior Ministry denied knowledge of the incident and declined to comment, Agence France-Presse reported, but Patrick Ceyrano, a reporter with sister station TV+, told CPJ that witnesses heard bursts of automatic weapons and a watchman described the shooters as men in dark clothes aboard a white Toyota 4×4. Go Africa TV’s local affiliate TV+ has been off the air since Sunday, and journalists from another sister station, Nostalgie Radio, have suspended its programs for fear of reprisals, according to Ceyrano.

While attacks and censorship limited the coverage of some traditional media outlets, real-time reports about the unfolding election and its aftermath have steadily filtered through bloggers using Twitter