IFJ Calls for Release of Journalist Held in Gabon

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called for the immediate and unconditional release of Norbert Ngoua Mezui, editor of Nku'u Le Messager newspaper, who this week began serving a sentence related to a three-year-old libel action.

Mezui was sentenced by a judicial tribunal in 2003 to 21 days of imprisonment for "press slandering." This decision followed a trial brought to the court by the paymaster of the general treasury against the weekly newspaper Misamu (whose publication has been suspended since then) and Mezui, author of the article that alleged that Equatorial Guinea was paying the salaries of the civil servants of Gabon.

Mezui’s lawyer, Nkéa Nzigué, told the Gabonese Press Agency (AGP) that the fact that the court did not react to the appeal of his client at the time of his sentencing means that there is no case against him.

Mezui, who is also the President of the Association of Free Press Professionals (APPEL) of Gabon, was arrested on Tuesday, four days after the pro-government newspaper Le Crocodile raised the issue in its October 13 edition.

"We are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Norbert Ngoua Mezui," said Gabriel Baglo, Director of IFJ Africa Office. "The Gabonese court’s decision is just an attempt to intimidate journalists in the wake of the scandal surrounding the sale of the island of Mbanié."

Some pro-government newspapers, L’Union and Le Crocodile especially, have accused three government ministers of trying to convince President Omar Bongo to sell Mbanié to Equatorial Guinea. The island is the object of a territorial disagreement between the two countries.

Other newspapers, including Nku'u Le Messager and Echos du nord, have disputed this accusation.

The newspapers have been feuding since September, even publishing personal attacks.

"We are saddened by this conflict between colleagues in the same profession and urge the Gabonese journalists to behave ethically and professionally and respect their colleagues," Baglo said. "This continued fighting will only make it easier for the enemies of press freedom in Gabon to attack them."

For further information contact the IFJ: +221 842 01 42

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries