Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Gabonese authorities not to restrict the flow of news and information and to guarantee the ability to journalists to work amid the turmoil following a coup attempt early yesterday morning, in which soldiers stormed into the national radio and TV station, RTG, and broadcast a call for an uprising.
The authorities quickly announced the arrest of the mutineers' leader and said the situation was "under control." But the Internet, which was disconnected early yesterday, had not been restored by the end of the day. RTG eventually resumed its regular programming yesterday evening.
According to the president's office, the five journalists and technicians who were at RTG headquarters when the soldiers arrived were not allowed to leave and were forced to broadcast the communiqué read by their leader, Lt. Obiang Kelly, who identified himself as the Republican Guard's deputy commander.
The communiqué called for a popular uprising in response to the "pathetic spectacle" offered by the country's president, Ali Bongo, who broadcast a New Year message from Morocco in a bid to reassure the Gabonese public about his state of health and ability to run the country. Bongo has not returned to Gabon since suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia in October and is now convalescing in Morocco.
"We condemn the use of force against journalists and the restrictions on news and information," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "The restoration of order announced by the authorities must be accompanied by an effective restoration of the Internet in Gabon. In the current fluid situation, Gabonese need more than ever to have access to credible media coverage, and journalists must be able to do their job to report the news."
Gabon is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.