Lagos, Nigeria, August 16, 2012–Unidentified gunmen today stormed a private television station owned by Gabon’s main opposition leader and burned down its transmitters, according to local journalists and news reports. It was the second armed attack on the broadcaster since 2009.
About 15 masked men armed with assault rifles and pistols subdued the five security guards at TV+ around 1 a.m. local time and set fire to the station’s transmitters on the third floor of a building in Libreville, the capital, according to news reports.
Hours before the attack, TV+, owned by former Interior Minister André Mba Obame, had extensively covered violent clashes between security forces and Obame’s supporters, who are calling for the ouster of President Ali Bongo and the holding of a national conference to draft a new constitution, news reports said.
Frank Nguema, director-general of TV+, told CPJ the motive for the arson is not clear but said the armed men set the transmitters on fire and left without taking any property or injuring anyone. The station is preparing to file a formal complaint with police and the courts, Nguema said. The station is not broadcasting for now, he said.
“We condemn the armed attack on TV+ and the sabotage of its transmitters as an act of political thuggery and censorship against an outlet critical of the government,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita in New York. “The Gabonese government must carry out a credible and transparent investigation or risk being suspected of involvement in the attack.”
In a telephone interview with CPJ, Blaise Louembe, Gabon’s information minister, denied any knowledge of the attack. “I confirm to you that I am not aware there was such an incident of fire or sabotage on TV+,” he said. “TV+ can also file a complaint which will ensure an investigation is carried out,” Louembe added.
Hours before the attack, TV+ had experienced power cuts that disrupted its coverage of the clashes, and had resorted to generators to continue broadcasting, according to news reports.
In September 2009, gunmen knocked the station off the air by firing on its transmitters, according to CPJ research.