U S Congress Quarries Omar Bongo for crack down on anti corruption crusaders
For Arresting Anti Corruption Crusaders Gabon's Omar Bongo under Fire from US Congress By Laurean Ajong Mbapndah, Washington DC A day after President Barack Obama used the occasion of his inauguration to send what observers thought was a grim message to sit tight leaders, Gabonese President Omar Bongo has come under fire from the United States Congress following the arbitrary arrest and detention of anti corruption crusaders. The arrest and detention of Marc Ona Essengui the National Coordinator of the "Publish what you pay coalition" and four fellow anti corruption actvists prompted a strongly worded letter from the members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US House of Representatives to President Bongo. Arrested on December 1 2008, and charged on January 7th 2009 alongside Ona were Georges Mpaga President of of the Gabonese Civil Society Network for Good Governance, Gregory Ngoua Mintsa ,a public servant, Gaston Asseko, Technical Director of the Catholic Radio Sainte Marie, and Dieudonne Koungo Journalist with Tendance Gabon. Although they were released on the 12 of January 2009, the US Congress remains concerned about the heavily flawed legal procedures that led to their arrest and detention as well as the charges pending against them.Ona and his unfortunate counterparts were fighting to expose corruption and strengthen fiscal transparency.Alarmed that independent Gabonese civil society members campaigning against misuse of public funds face such harassment and intimidation by government officials. Ona's arrest the letter notes follows a series of actions by the Gabonese authorities resulting in the suspension of 22 Gabones NGOs in Jan 08. Ona, a civil society member of the national committe EITI interst group which includes members of the Gabonese government to oversee implementation in Gabon of extractive industries transparency initiative, had been under a travel ban since June 08. As a current member of the board, the letter from Congress says the US government strongly supports the EITI, a global initiative for more transparent management of revenues from oil, gas and mining. With the government of Gabon also holding a seat on the board of this crucially important anti-corruption initiative, threats and charges violate the spirit and leter of agreement and are most troubling Congress opines. Formally charged with possession of a document for dissemination and propaganda, and possession of a document for oral or written propaganda with the intent to incite rebellion againsat state authority, Congress notes that the men were " arrested without warrant,kept in preventive detention beyond periods permissible under Gabonese Law, denied access to legal counsel,and had to endure unsanitary conditions while in jail. Thierry Levy a French Lawyer representing the five detainees was barred from travelling to the Gabonese Capital Libreville following the revocation of his visa by the Gabonese authorities. Congress the letter went on, believes that the arrest and detention of these activists and charges brought against them violates their basic human rights guaranteed under international treatis to which Gabon is a signatory.Given these facts Congress in the letter calls for full protection of due process and right to a meaningful legal defense.In the absence of prompt disclosure of evidence against the charged, full access to legal representation ,full protection of due process rights, Congress in the letter signed by James P.Mcgovern Co-Chair of the Committee and Members Edward R.Royce,Donald M.Payne,Barney Frank, and Gwen Moore calls on the Gabonese authorities to dismiss the charges. In power since 1967, Omar Bongo in his 80s is Africa and the worlds longest serving leader since Fidel Castro stepped down excluding monarchies.He has used the ruse of flawed multi-party elections to maintain a tight grip on power.Fueled by a patroitic zeal to slavage the country before it is completely plunged into chaos by the aging Bongo, and using U S President Barack Obama as an inspiration, a group of Gabonese in the USA recently launched a political party called the United Front for Radical Change,FUCR. Its leader Guy Roger Biwogo sees in the letter from Congress to Omar Bongo a second victory for them. The first he claims was their success in forcing President Bongo to cancel a planned trip to the USA for the inauguration of President Obama. The FUCR he said had rallied the Gabonese Community in the USA to turn out enmasse to protest at the Gabonese Embassy in Washington DC, if he turned up at the inaugural without releasing Marc Ona and others. Biwogo sees in the letter a source of encouragement for the struggle for democracy, respect for basic human rights and accountability that the FUCR is advocating for.
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