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Gabon Civilians Celebrate as Coup Leader Frees Political Prisoners

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Gabon civilians are celebrating the military junta’s liberation Tuesday of several political prisoners jailed for years without trial by ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Coup leader Brice Nguema also received his first ever foreign delegation led by Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera, dispatched by central African leaders to negotiate a return to civilian rule after suspending Gabon from their regional bloc.

Gabon’s military junta says it has freed several people held without trial by the government of ousted President Ali Bongo. Included in the release was Jean-Remy Yama, leader of the Coalition of Gabon State Workers Trade Unions, who was detained in February 2022.

Yama was accused of embezzlement and abuse of confidence, a charge trade union leaders in Gabon describe as unfounded. Gabon’s trade unions say Yama was a vocal critic of  Bongo’s refusal to improve conditions of state workers in the oil producing nation.

Renaud Allogho Akoue, former director general of Gabon’s National Social Insurance and Health Fund, who was arrested in December 2019 and given a 10 year jail sentence for misappropriating public funds, was released, as was Léandre Nzué, former mayor of Gabon’s capital, Libreville.

Sixty-two-year-old Nzué, who is a former politburo member of Bongo’s Gabon’s Democratic Party, told Gabon’s national television Tuesday the military junta has saved him from the mental and psychological torture he was going through at the Libreville Central Prison.

He said he is very thankful to Gabon’s military and junta leader Brice Oligui Nguema for ordering his release from the central prison in Libreville, where he was incarcerated for three years illegally without trial. He said he is ready to work with Nguema for a return to democracy, normal life and the development of Gabon.

Gabon state TV showed images of scores of people, including opposition supporters, celebrating the liberation of the prisoners.

Nzué has always claimed he wanted Bongo to serve Gabon, accusing him instead of serving his family. Bongo accused Nzué of stealing public funds.

During his swearing-in as interim president on Monday, coup leader Brice Oligui Nguema promised amnesty for people he described as prisoners of conscience. He did not give the number of such prisoners, but Gabon’s opposition says there are many.

Nguema also promised to facilitate the return of all Gabon citizens exiled abroad.

Arsele Moro Ngui is a researcher and political analyst at Omar Bongo University in Gabon’s capital, Libreville. He spoke via a messaging app from Libreville.

He said the liberation of three prisoners is a promise made by Nguema and civilians expect the military leader to liberate many other political prisoners who are languishing in detention centers. He said Nguema, who has made Gabon to regain its freedom, should now consider the return of exiles as the military leader promised during his swearing-in on Monday.

On Tuesday, Central African Republic President Faustin Touadera was the first foreign president to visit Gabon after last week’s coup. Toudera, who was appointed by the 12-member Economic Community of Central African States – ECCAS — to mediate Gabon’s transition to constitutional order, held closed-door talks the with junta leader in Libreville.

No statements were made after the meeting. ECCAS on Monday suspended Gabon from the regional bloc and promised further sanctions should Gabon fail to hand over to civilian rule.

Nguema during his swearing in on Monday said he was committed to handing over power to civilians by organizing free, transparent and credible elections. But he did not say when. The military junta has also announced an imminent appointment of a transitional government of what it calls experienced and seasoned people.

ECCAS says Toudera will meet Bongo to be updated on his state of health and the well-being of the ousted president’s family. 

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