Gabonese radio journalist, union leader convicted of defamation

An appeals court in Gabon on July 26, 2017, upheld a lower court’s conviction of Gildas Biviga, a journalist for Radio Gabon, on defamation charges, but reduced his sentence to time served and ordered his release, according to media reports.

The Mouila Court of Appeals convicted Biviga of being complicit in the defamation of Jean-Pierre Boungoulou, the public prosecutor of the central Gabonese town of Tchibanga, for airing an interview with Marcel Libama, the leader of the national education union, in which Libama alleged the prosecutor had abused his powers of arrest and detention.

In response, Boungoulou ordered both Libama and Biviga arrested on criminal defamation charges on June 20, according to Cyprien Mougoulie, a member of the education union, and media reports.

The Mouila appeals court upheld the Tchibanga criminal court’s imposition of fines of 300,000 CFA francs (U.S.$528) on both men, but reduced their prison sentences to one month of time served, Biviga’s lawyer, Martial Loundou, told CPJ. The men spent 37 days in state custody, according to media reports.

“It is the first time in 12 years that something like this has happened to me. I never had any problem before,” Biviga told CPJ.

Prison guards beat Biviga and Libama while they were in custody, Biviga said, adding that he did not believe he was specifically targeted because others in the prison were also beaten. The journalist said guards slapped him on the head, causing him to lose hearing for several days, and that his ankle was inflamed from the beating.

On July 13, both Biviga and Libama were admitted to the Benjamin Ngoubou Hospital in Tchibanga for five days, Hasse Nziengui, the deputy director of Radio Gabon, told CPJ.

Mougoulie told CPJ that the syndicate would file a complaint about the beatings to a court in Tchibanga.

“I leave this case in the hands of the high authorities. We are waiting for the results of the investigations,” Biviga told CPJ.

Boungoulou declined to comment when contacted by CPJ.

Multiple calls to Denis Ngoma, the director of the central prison of Tchibanga, went unanswered.