Three soldiers behind a failed coup in Gabon in 2019 have been sentenced to 15 years’ prison, the prosecutor told AFP on Thursday.
The three, including Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang who was a member of the elite Republican Guard, had gone on state television in January 2019 calling for a “public uprising” during the short-lived coup.
Five policemen and a civilian who were on trial alongside them were acquitted, the prosecutor said, adding the verdict was handed down overnight.
The defendants had faced life imprisonment if convicted.
“My clients are happy, they made a victory sign to those present,” one of their lawyers, Jean-Pierre Moumbembe, told AFP, adding that he had appealed the verdict.
Renegade soldiers launched a coup on January 7, 2019, when longtime President Ali Bongo Ondimba was out of the country recuperating from a stroke.
Bongo, who has ruled the oil-rich equatorial country for over a decade, had a stroke in October 2018 while in Saudi Arabia, and was hospitalised in Riyadh.
His supporters put down the brief coup bid that challenged an elected family presidency that has ruled for more than 50 years.
Bongo took over from his father Omar Bongo Ondimba, head of state from 1967 until he died in 2009.
The nine defendants went on trial on June 18 for “undermining internal security of the State” and had faced the possibility of life imprisonment.
According to their lawyers, they wanted to prevent the president’s brother, Frederic Bongo, from taking power by force and had been in particular concerned about the presence of “mercenaries” in the country.
In a series of tweets on its official handle, the Gambian Ministry of Youths and Sports explained that the Gabonese delegation was not allowed to leave the Airport because they “refused to surrender their Covid-19 test certificates to the public health officials; equally, they refused to be tested at the airport and put up with unfavourable behaviours.
“The public health officials on duty did not allow them to leave the airport without being tested until 05:30 am after the matter was reported to the Match Commissioner by Mr Lamin Jassey, General Secretary.”
The Ministry explained that “The public health officials were given assurance by the Gabonese sports minister and the ambassador that tests will be conducted on each member of the delegation at their Hotel. It was after this assurance the delegation was allowed to leave the airport.”
Clarification: The Behaviour of the Gabonese delegation
The @MOYSTheGambia has learnt with shocked and disbelief the attitude of the Gabonese delegation upon their arrival at the Banjul International Airport last night.
I know my team They Ready like Never before And me they did a misTake Letting me sleep for couple Hours Today is the day!!! No Matter the result for me my team won already when i See the faces this Morning everyone is hungry hungry about Football Let’s fucking Go Panthers💚💛💙
A furious Aubameyang while replying to a tweet, urged the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to take responsibility.
“This will not demotivate us, but people need to know and CAF need to take responsibility,” the 2019/2020 joint-highest goalscorer added. “(It is) 2020 and we want Africa to grow, but this is not how we will get there.”
Ça nous démotivera pas mais ils faut que les gens sachent et surtout que la @CAF_Online prennent ces responsabilité. 2020 et on veut que l’Afrique grandissent ce n’est pas comme ça qu’on va y arriver!!! https://t.co/7qCeYNaBmJ
Gabon’s gay community has welcomed the decriminalisation of homosexuality adopted this week, a year after an initial ban on same-sex relations sparked weeks of debate and sharply divided the central African country.
The criminalisation of homosexuality went almost unnoticed in this country of less than two million inhabitants when it was adopted last year.
But the amendment to the legislation adopted by Gabon’s parliament late Monday has underscored divisions with praise from activists contrasting with anger from opponents in the local press, on social media and in the streets.
“It’s good news. We’re finally going to be able to breathe a sigh of relief,” said Parfait Magnaga, the head of Sante + Pro Humanitus, one of the only associations defending the rights of sexual minorities in Gabon.
The amendment removes text, added by the Senate in July 2019, which made same-sex sexual relations a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of five million CFA francs (7,600 euros).
The change will formally become law once the president — whose government pushed for the amendment — ratifies it.
Although the law was never applied, “in the past year, we have been more vulnerable to violence because we no longer had the law on our side,” Magnaga, a psycho-sexologist by profession, told AFP.
In normal times, “it’s already difficult for a homosexual here to go and file a complaint when he’s verbally or physically attacked,” he added.
“Parliament’s vote is a small victory for us, but it is not a question of gloating now. We prefer to remain discreet,” he said.
Magnaga said the gay community above all wants Gabon to turn the page on this “trying” political time.
For three weeks, the issue of decriminalising homosexuality caused a stir and drew homophobic comments from all corners of Gabon.
Some press articles went so far as to equate homosexuality with paedophilia and bestiality.
Leaders of the Catholic Church and the opposition have condemned homosexuality in public forums, often in violent terms, while messages inciting hate against homosexuals have been rampant on social media.
“In the taxi, in the neighbourhood, on television, at home, homophobic remarks were everywhere,” said Magnaga.
The psychologist recorded a video, which he said was shot this past week in the capital’s biggest market, showing a young man accused of being homosexual being chased by a group, insulted and narrowly escaping an attack thanks to the intervention of another man.
‘Foreign to our morals’ Many opponents of decriminalisation claim that the vote in parliament is far from a true reflection of the opinion of most Gabonese people.
Decriminalisation “does not enjoy a great deal of support”, political opponent Paul-Marie Gondjout wrote in an open letter to the government, deploring “a power that clearly chooses, and against the interests of its people, to serve lobbies and morals that are foreign to our habits and customs”.
Jean-Patrick Iba-Ba, the archbishop of Libreville, accused “certain international organisations” of “conditioning their aid on the acceptance of behaviour which is foreign to our morals”.
Homosexuality is widely criminalised in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than half of its countries banning or repressing same-sex relations — in a few places, with the threat of the death penalty.
However, Gabon had never banned homosexuality before last year, and its legislation had not even mentioned it.
The UN Resident Coordinator in Gabon, Stephen Jackson, welcomed the vote on Monday, saying it was in line with Gabon’s constitution which “recognises every person’s right to the ‘free development of their personality'”.
The UN representative hailed Gabon as a “proud, independent and sovereign nation”.
A bill to decriminalise homosexual activity is making headway in Gabon, where such contact has been banned for nearly a year.
The central African country’s National Assembly voted late Tuesday to adopt an amendment to criminal legislation to remove a paragraph which prohibits “sexual relations between persons of the same sex”, a source close to parliament confirmed to AFP on Wednesday.
The text had been introduced by the Senate, the upper house, into a draft law in July 2019.
It stipulated that having homosexual relations in Gabon was considered “an offence against morality”, punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of five million CFA francs ($8,600, 7,600 euros).
On Tuesday, “48 deputies voted in favour of decriminalisation, 24 against and 25 abstained,” the source told AFP.
For the bill to be passed, the text must still be adopted in the same terms by the Senate.
Gabon’s presidency said Monday that a recent speech showed leader Ali Bongo was “firmly in control” of the country after he suffered a stroke 10 months ago that fuelled speculation about his ability to rule.
The opposition has claimed that President Bongo is unfit to lead after the stroke in October, and his every move is now scrutinised for signs of his state of health.
On Friday, the 60-year-old made his first public appearance outside the presidential palace since returning home in March after falling ill.
“The president is at the wheel, he is in command,” presidency spokesman Ike Ngouoni said at a press conference in the capital Libreville.
“The president works not only to prove he is in control, everyone can notice, everyone can see that today he is on the job every day.”
“Everyone could see the president has regained his oratorical fluency,” Ngouoni said of Bongo’s televised speech on Friday night.
However, Bongo has yet to face the media since his stroke.
“When the president deems it is useful and an appropriate time, he will find the best way to address the press,” said Ngouoni.
Bongo used a long cane to walk as he attended a military parade on Saturday to mark Gabon’s 1960 independence from France.
Speculation about his capacity to rule the small, oil-rich central African country surged after he suffered the stroke while in Saudi Arabia.
He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning briefly in January and then in March. During his extended absence, the army quashed a briefly attempted coup.
Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died on June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo on Saturday made a rare public appearance to attend the country’s independence day celebrations, nearly ten months after suffering a stroke that fueled speculation about his ability to rule.
Bongo, whose every move is scrutinised for signs of his state of health, on Friday made his first public appearance since his illness, taking part in events on the eve of celebrations to mark Gabon’s 1960 independence from France.
The public outings were the first time Gabonese have seen their leader beyond the presidential palace since he fell ill last October, except for appearances filmed and edited by Gabonese government or state media.
Standing straight in an army vehicle, in a dark suit and dark glasses, Bongo on Saturday arrived at the military parade on Libreville’s main boulevard along the capital’s seafront.
He used a long cane to walk to an observation stand, applauded by dignitaries there and he climbed the stairs by himself to his seat, next to his wife Sylvia Bongo, AFP journalists at the scene said.
Early on Saturday morning, many people had flocked to the seafront, trying to make their way through many security barriers to catch a glimpse of their leader.
“There are people who said he was sick, but he was able to greet us,” said Mama Youssouf, a young spectator in the crowd.
Speculation about 60-year-old Bongo’s capacity to rule the small oil-rich country surged after he suffered a stroke while in Saudi Arabia.
He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning in January. During his extended absence, the army quashed a brief attempted coup.
Ten members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade union movement have filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.
A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting for the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.
But the Court of Appeal has said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it — August 26.
Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.
A Gabon court will shortly hear a petition for President Ali Bongo Ondimba to undergo medical tests to prove his fitness to govern after suffering a stroke last year, lawyers said on Monday.
The case will be heard by the Court of Appeal in Libreville starting on August 26, attorneys for both sides said.
Speculation about Bongo’s ability to rule the small oil-rich country has surged since he fell ill while in Saudi Arabia last October.
After being treated in Morocco, he returned home in March but since then has never made a live speech or spoken before the general public.
In March, 10 members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade union movement filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he was medically fit to continue in office.
A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying that only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.
But the Court of Appeal on Monday said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it.
Bongo, 60, succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.
Anges Kevin Nzigou, a lawyer who is one of the 10 plaintiffs, said Monday’s decision “is the start of something.”
“For once, (the judicial system) resisted the pressure… (refusing) a demand formulated by the president” for the petition to be tossed out, he charged.
Bongo’s attorney, Tony Serge Ndong, angrily said the case “breaks every rule” and Bongo, as president, “cannot be prosecuted.”
Opposition figures have urged the public to turn out in large numbers on Saturday to witness an annual military parade to mark the country’s independence from France.
Bongo will, as usual, oversee the parade from a VIP stand, according to the government. If so, says the opposition, the public will be gauge Bongo’s state for themselves.
Zibi’s trial opened at the beginning of July, almost three years after his arrest. The public prosecutor called on the court to jail him for 10 years.
Zibi caused an uproar when he quit his post as an MP in the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) during a public meeting attended by President Ali Bongo Ondimba in July 2016.
His resignation came a month before a presidential election in which Bongo was re-elected.
Bongo first took power in the oil-rich equatorial African state in 2009, the elected successor to his father Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon from 1967 until his death.
Seven years later, Ali Bongo won a second term in a hotly disputed presidential poll where he was challenged by Jean Ping, known for his previous diplomatic roles in the African Union and at the United Nations.
Zibi was arrested at Ping’s campaign headquarters on August 31, 2016, as violence erupted following the announcement of Bongo’s electoral victory.
Hundreds of people were detained during street protests and as the National Assembly was set on fire. The security forces launched an assault on Ping’s operational base.
The government reported three deaths in the wave of violence, while opposition and civil society sources said they had identified 30 people killed, while others went missing.
Late in October 2018, Ali Bongo suffered a stroke and spent weeks in a hospital in Riyadh before being moved to Morocco, a longtime ally of Gabon. An apparent coup bid early this year was foiled.
There have been intensifying calls for Mapangou to resign in recent days in the press and from civil society groups in the aftermath of the theft of hundreds of seized containers of kevazingo, a rare wood considered sacred.
Nearly 5,000 cubic metres (177,000 cubic feet) of kevazingo worth some 7 million euros ($7.8 million) was found in two depots belonging to Chinese companies in the Libreville port of Owendo in February and March.
Several suspects were arrested, but 353 of the containers — which had been confiscated — mysteriously disappeared.
The wood had allegedly been loaded into containers bearing water and forestry ministry labels, falsely describing it as okoume — a kind of timber cleared for export.
Local media have called the scandal “kevazingogate”.
Earlier in May, the government said several top Gabonese officials had been suspended over suspected involvement in smuggling the precious timber.
Kevazingo is a rare central African wood that is prized in Asia, notably for sculpting into temple doorways, tea tables and meeting tables.
Gabon, three quarters of whose land mass is forested, last year banned the exploitation of kevazingo after illegal felling reached alarming proportions.
The industry is hugely important for the West African nation’s economy, supporting some 17,000 jobs, and is second only to the petroleum sector in terms of foreign earnings and accounts for 60 per cent of non-oil related GDP.