US Organizations Urge Release of Gabonese Civil Society Leaders

Friday, January 9, 2009

Oxfam America • Amnesty International • Human Rights Watch • Friends of the Earth • Global Response • International Rivers • International Accountability Project • Rainforest Action Network • Committee to Protect Journalists • Global Greengrants Fund • Reporters Without Borders • TransAfrica Forum • Publish What You Pay • Bank Information Center

By Fax to: +1 202 332 0668

January 9, 2009

His Excellency El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba
President, the Gabonese Republic
c/o Embassy of Gabon
2034 20th Street, NW, Suite 200, Washington DC 20009

Re: US Organizations Urge Release of Gabonese Civil Society Leaders

Dear President Bongo:

The undersigned human rights and environmental organizations urge you to ensure the immediate release of five Gabonese civil society leaders who on December 31, 2008 were detained by the judicial police, and to ensure that any charges against them are dropped. We understand that five individuals - Marc Ona Essangui of Brainforest/Publish What You Pay, George Mpaga, President of the Network of Free Civil Society Organizations for Good Governance, Gregoire Ngojia Mintsa, journalist Dieudonné Koungou with Tendance Gabonare, and radio director Gaston Asseko - have as of January 8, 2009 been charged with "possession of a document with a view to distributing it as propaganda" and "oral or written propaganda with the aim of inciting revolt against the authorities."

These commendable individuals have worked to defend Gabonese natural heritage, increase government and oil and gas industry transparency, and improve natural resource governance. The charges against them are clearly an effort to silence brave and legitimate voices and halt the important, ongoing efforts of these individuals towards the future of Gabon.

The work of these individuals is exemplary of the higher aspirations of the Government of Gabon to adhere to international norms and standards on transparency. You and your government have promised to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a key component of which is meaningful civil society participation. These arrests and detentions clearly contradict the spirit and the letter of the initiative to which you have committed.

Further, the arrest and detention of these individuals is incompatible with the international legal obligations of the Government of Gabon under human rights law, and as a party to several treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We have particular concern that the treatment of the men may also be in violation of the prohibition on ill treatment of detainees as set out in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and other human rights conventions to which Gabon is a party.

The undersigned organizations, many of whom have professional relationships with these civil society leaders, are very concerned about their well-being. Two of the detained leaders have special health conditions (George Mpaga is diabetic, and Gaston Asseko recently had an operation) and one (Marc Ona Essangui) is wheelchair bound due to polio. We have received information that both Gaston Asseko and Gregoire Ngbwa Mintsa are ill.

We urge you to secure their immediate release from prison and to ensure that all charges against them are dropped.


Brent Blackwelder, President
Friends of the Earth-US
1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036 USA

Michael Brune, Executive Director
Rainforest Action Network
221 Pine Street
San Francisco, CA 94104 USA

Chad Dobson, Executive Director
Bank Information Center
1100 H St, NW, Suite 650
Washington, DC 20005 USA

Arvind Ganesan, Director
Business and Human Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
1630 Connecticut Avenue NW, Ste. 500
Washington, DC 20009 USA

Ian Gary, Senior Policy Advisor/Manager - Extractive Industries
Oxfam America
1100 15th Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005 USA

Nicole Lee, Executive Director
TransAfrica Forum
1629 K Street, NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20006

Jennifer Kalafut, Co-Director
International Accountability Project
221 Pine Street
San Francisco, CA USA 94104

Michael O'Reilly, Director
Program for Individuals at Risk
Amnesty International USA
600 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20003 USA

Paula Palmer, Executive Director
Global Response
PO Box 7490
Boulder, CO 80306 USA

Sarah Pray, US Coordinator
Publish What You Pay
1120 19th Street NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20036 USA

Peter Kostishack
Director of Programs
Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place, Suite A
Boulder, CO 80301 USA

Patrick McCully
Executive Director
International Rivers
1847 Berkeley Way
Berkeley, CA 94703 USA

Lucie Morillon
Washington Director
Reporters Without Borders
Southern Railway Building
1500 K Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005 USA

Tom Rhodes
Africa Program Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Avenue, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001 USA

S.E. Monsieur le Premier Ministre Jean Eyeghe Ndong
B.P. 400
Libreville, Gabon
Fax: +011 241 76 4634

S.E. Monsieur le Vice-President Didjob Divoungi-Di-Ndinge
B.P. 546
Libreville, Gabon
Fax: +011 241 72 99 90

Ambassador Eunice S. Reddick
Embassy of the United States in Gabon
Blvd. du Bord de Mer
B.P. 4000
Libreville, Gabon
Fax: +011 241 74 55 07
African Committee on Human and Peoples' Rights
48 Kairaba Avenue, P.O.Box 673
Banjul, the Gambia
Fax: +011 220 4390 764