Gabon: French media hit by ban, internet down, in disputed election

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Supporters of Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba and the Gabonese Democratic Party are seen at the Nzeng-Ayong stadium in Libreville on July 10, 2023 [Steeve Jordan/AFP]

Reporters Without Borders also denounced the fact that foreign journalists had been largely restricted from covering the election.

French media outlets RFI and France 24 have expressed “incomprehension” at the suspension of their operations in Gabon at the end of a fraught presidential election.

The government cut off the internet starting Saturday evening and put a curfew in place, citing the risk of violence as voting was drawing to a close in the race between incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba and his main opponent, Albert Ondo Ossa.

Earlier in the day, the opposition had denounced the way the election was being conducted, calling it a “fraud orchestrated by Ali Bongo and his supporters”.

Later that evening, the communication authority announced “the provisional ban on the broadcasting in Gabon of France 24, RFI and TV5 Monde”.

It accused the news outlets of “a lack of objectivity and balance … in connection with the current general elections”.

In a statement on Sunday, France Medias Monde, the parent company of RFI and France 24, said it “regrets and is surprised by this provisional suspension, which lacks foundation”, adding that it “deprives the Gabonese of two of their main sources of reliable and independent information”.

The elections in Gabon – presidential, legislative and municipal – went ahead without the presence of election observers.

Bongo is the candidate for the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), the party founded by his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled with an iron fist from 1967 to 2009. After his death, his son, then the defence minister, took his place as president and has ruled ever since.

He is seeking victory over a newly united opposition.

Albert Ossa – a 69-year-old economics professor who served as a minister under the older Bongo from 2006 to 2009 – was chosen by the main opposition coalition Alternance 2023, as its joint candidate just eight days before the election.

“Gabonese people were asking for a consensual candidate to put an end to the hegemony of the Bongo dynasty,” Ossa told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “It was essential that we put up a united front, and that’s what we did.”

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF) denounced the fact that foreign journalists had been largely restricted from covering the election.

According to Surfshark.com’s internet shutdown tracker, there have been two other internet restrictions in Gabon since 2015.

Further restriction “would profoundly hinder the process of democratic elections”, warned Gabriele Racaityte-Krasauske, Surfshark’s spokesperson, in an emailed statement to Al Jazeera.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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