Internet blackout continues in Gabon

An internet shutdown in the African nation of Gabon remained in place on Monday according to an internet censorship monitor amid concerns over delays in the release of the results of national elections held over the weekend.

The government announced the indefinite restriction of internet access and a nightly curfew on Saturday evening as voting ended in presidential, parliamentary and local elections.

Rodrigue Mboumba Bissawou, the country’s communications minister, said the move was intended to avoid the “risk of violence and the spreading of disinformation.”

On the same day, authorities announced the suspension of the broadcasting in Gabon of French media channels France 24, RFI and TV5 Monde, accusing them of “a lack of objectivity and balance” in election reporting, a decision described as regrettable by France Medias Monde, the parent company of the media outlets.

Incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba sought reelection for a third term against his main challenger, Albert Ondo Ossa, a consensus candidate fielded by six main opposition parties under the coalition movement Alternance 2023.

“Metrics show that the internet shutdown in #Gabon is in place for a third day,” NetBlocks, a nonprofit organization that monitors internet censorship, said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The internet blackout is “likely to limit the free flow of information online, presenting a challenge to election transparency” as votes are counted, NetBlocks said.

Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, executive director of the Central African Human Rights Defenders Network, expressed concern Monday about the internet blockage, curfew and media restrictions, saying they cast doubt on the transparency of the election.

“The internet blackout and media restrictions are indicative of the lack of a fair and transparent election,” she told Anadolu.

She appealed to the African Union to come out and “demand the restoration of internet access” before things get out of hand.

On Monday, it was not clear when Gabon’s electoral authority would announce the results of Saturday’s general elections, fueling claims of vote rigging by the opposition camp led by Ossa, who on Saturday claimed he had won the presidential election.

But Jessye Ella Ekogha, an advisor to President Bongo, told Anadolu that the “tallying of the results was still ongoing” and dismissed the rigging claims.

Ossa, who also ran in the 2009 presidential election, said after voting in the capital Libreville on Saturday that “60 years in power is too much” for Bongo.

Bongo, 64, took over from his father Omar Bongo Ondimba in 2009 after the latter ruled the tiny oil-rich country for more than 41 years.

He was reelected in 2016 for a second seven-year term in polls that observers said were marred by violence. 

In April, the Gabonese parliament amended the country’s constitution to reduce the president’s term from seven to five years.

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