African leader bans reports of his friend's war crimes trial

MALABO (Equatorial Guinea) • TV reports on the trial of former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo in The Hague for crimes against humanity have been banned on Equatorial Guinea's state broadcaster.

"We've been forbidden from airing Laurent Gbagbo's trial due to his friendship with our President," a ranking state media official said, referring to President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, 73.

The RTNGE network in Spanish is watched by around 85 per cent of the population.

The charges against Gbagbo, 70, are linked to post-election violence in Ivory Coast from 2010 to 2011, which also was ordered kept off screens in Equatorial Guinea because of what the authorities said was the principle of "non-intervention in another country's internal affairs".

Gbagbo went on trial last week before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, in the Netherlands, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the violence that left some 3,000 people dead.

He maintained his innocence, as expected, with hundreds of supporters gathering outside the court building.

His case is an important challenge for the ICC - he is the first former president to reach trial at the tribunal, which has been in operation for a decade with a mandate to deal with war crimes and genocide.

President from 2000 to 2011, he stands trial with 43-year-old Charles Ble Goude, one of his militia leaders, for crimes allegedly committed against supporters of Mr Alassane Ouattara, current President of Ivory Coast, in the aftermath of the 2010 presidential election.

Gbagbo was narrowly defeated in a run-off, but he insisted that he had won and refused to cede power, leading to months of turmoil and the deaths of more than 3,000 people before his arrest in April 2011.

Although Ivory Coast's principal city Abidjan is now a bustling place, with Mr Ouattara's government having invested in new roads and bridges, it still bears the scars of the violence from that period.

Pro-Gbagbo militias are said to have tortured, raped and killed people because of their origins or political affiliations.

When Gbagbo was transferred to The Hague in 2011 following his arrest, Mr Obiang urged Africans to boycott the ICC.

The leader of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is Africa's longest-serving ruler after initially taking office in an August 1979 coup.

He has said he will seek another seven-year term at elections this year in the country.

Equatorial Guinea regularly comes under attack from rights groups as well as anti-corruption watchdogs.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'African leader bans reports of his friend's war crimes trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe