Gabonese activists held over protest

2012-06-08 22:11

Libreville - Two leading Gabonese activists and about 30 others were arrested as they tried to hold a "Counter-Forum of Indignants" alongside the New York Forum Africa opening on Friday in Libreville.

Marc Ona, an award-winning environmental activist, and Gregory Ngbwa Mintsa, spokesperson of Gabon's Indignants' Front, were arrested before their event could kick off.

"When I arrived [at the venue], the police asked me to identify myself and they arrested me," Ona said, adding later that he and about 10 other activists were being taken to the sprawling police barracks of Fopi on the outskirts of Libreville.

The three-day New York Forum Africa, to be attended by Gabonese President Ali Bongo, is dedicated to development issues across the continent and features senior business executives and politicians from across Africa and beyond.

But local campaigners have dismissed it as a public relations exercise that does not address the real needs of Gabon.

Civil society and opposition sources said another 20 people were rounded up along with Ngbwa Mintsa.

Ona, recipient of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize, said he had received a letter informing him that the counter-forum was banned, but decided "not to give in."

"They were arrested because they wanted to hold a banned demonstration," said interior ministry spokesman Jean-Eric Nziengui Mangala, without giving the exact number of arrests.

Fellow campaigner Georges Mpaga, who has frequently been arrested along with Ona, told AFP he and other activists planned to report to the police headquarters and hand themselves in.

"If they are arresting Marc Ona, then let them arrest everyone," he said.

Ona won the Goldman Prize for his "efforts to publicly expose the unlawful agreements behind a huge mining project threatening the sensitive ecosystems of Gabon's equatorial rainforests," the organisation said on its website.

Confined to a wheelchair since a childhood bout of polio, he also campaigns on disability rights issues and for greater Internet access in Africa.

Ngbwa Mintsa was detained with Ona for 13 days in 2009 under the regime of Ali Bongo's father Omar.

Ona, Mpaga and Ngbwa Mintsa were accused in 2009 of exceeding their roles as members of civil society by then interior minister Andre Mba Obame, who has since joined the opposition.