Controversy Surrounds Detention Conditions of Former President Bongo’s Wife and Son in Gabon

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The detention conditions of the former Gabonese first lady and her son have sparked controversy, with their lawyers alleging mistreatment while in custody. Held at the central prison for several months following the August 30 coup, they face charges including “high treason against state institutions, massive misappropriation of public funds, and organized international financial embezzlement.” Concerns about the respect for their rights have been raised by their supporters.

“They have endured acts of torture, the details of which I possess and find utterly unacceptable!” declares attorney François Zimeray, advocating for his clients Sylvia and Nourredin Bongo. “Sylvia and Noureddin Bongo are subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” he adds, denouncing the violation of numerous human rights conventions to which Gabon is a signatory. While refraining from providing specific details of the alleged mistreatment, Zimeray emphasizes the importance of upholding the presumption of innocence, integrity, and human dignity.

However, a judicial source dismisses these claims as mere sensationalism: “These accusations are baseless attempts to create a media frenzy. We have no interest in mistreating them.”

The situation surrounding the Bongos remains shrouded in mystery, as neither lawyers nor family members have been permitted to visit them in prison. Zimeray, who traveled from France twice in December in an attempt to see them, was denied access both times.

According to various sources, the detention regimes for the mother and son differ. Sylvia Bongo has been held at the women’s detention center since October, a modern facility renovated two years ago—ironically, with funding from the former First Lady’s foundation. Upon her arrival, the prison reportedly made preparations, providing her with new bedding and refurbishing her surroundings. Despite these accommodations, concerns remain regarding her access to legal representation and family visits.

As a dual Franco-Gabonese citizen, Sylvia has been granted consular visits, enabling her to meet with representatives from the French embassy. She has also received medical care, including treatment for a recent bout of flu and malaria. Despite her favorable detention conditions, concerns persist about her emotional well-being, with reports indicating she struggles with her confinement.

In contrast, Nourredin Bongo’s incarceration appears more severe. Like his mother, he has been denied visits from relatives or lawyers since his detention in September. Though he has occasionally met with his attorneys during judicial summonses, access to him remains heavily restricted by prison authorities.

The opaque nature of the Bongos’ detention underscores broader concerns about transparency and due process in Gabonese judicial proceedings. As the situation continues to unfold, calls for accountability and adherence to legal standards persist, highlighting the complexities of justice in the political landscape of Gabon.


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