BRAZZAVILLE Congo Republic has suspended several independent newspapers for offences including reprinting an article linking President Denis Sassou Nguesso to the assassination of military ruler Marien Ngouabi in 1977.
The High Council for Freedom of Communication (CSLC) suspended L'Observateur, Talassa and Le Trottoir for four months for "incitement to violence, defamation or dishonouring certain high authorities of the state".
Nguesso, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, is ruling the oil-rich Central African nation for a second spell. He was head of state from 1979 to 1992 after seizing power in a coup, then staged a comeback in 1997 after a civil war.
The newspapers had republished an article from the magazine Afrique Education that referred to a letter written by former defence minister Justin Lekoundzou implicating Nguesso in Ngouabi's killing in 1997. Sassou Nguesso has never been formally accused of any participation in Ngouabi's murder and denies involvement.
A fourth paper, Le Glaive, did not publish the article but was shut down for two months for refusing to comply with the council's instructions.
The press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the suspensions were arbitrary and called for them to be lifted immediately.
"The CSLC now seems to be focusing on censorship and intimidation instead of doing its job, which is to guarantee freedom of communication," it said in a statement.
Ngouabi, who came to power in 1969 and promptly declared his country a Marxist-Leninist state, was assassinated in 1977 by a military commando. A number of individuals including Ngouabi's predecessor, Alphonse Massamba-Débat, were convicted and executed for his killing.
(Reporting by Christian Tsoumou; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Kevin Liffey)