Equatorial Guinea 2020
The crackdown on human rights defenders continued and administrative obstacles prevented NGOs from obtaining legal registration. The right to a fair trial was violated. Police used excessive force and the right to freedom of expression, including access to information, was violated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Draft legislation threatened to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and sex workers.
The government planned to organize international events to attract foreign investment and signed new mining contracts with foreign companies. Corruption and embezzlement continued to hit the headlines. In February, the Appeal Court of Paris upheld a three-year suspended sentence and a €30 million fine against Vice-President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mangue, the President’s son, for embezzlement.
In March, the government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by declaring a state of emergency on health grounds which included rights-restricting provisions. Some restrictions were lifted on 15 June.
The government resigned in August, acknowledging its responsibility for the economic crisis which was aggravated by the pandemic. A new government took over.
Freedom of expression
The authorities violated the right to freedom of expression, including access to information, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the government stopped publishing the numbers of COVID-19 cases, arguing that the information had been used by its critics to discredit its public health work.
Later in May, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the World Health Organization to withdraw its representative and make sure she left the capital, Malabo, immediately after the government accused her of “falsifying the data” on COVID-19 infections.
On 15 April, Nuria Obono Ndong Andeme, a nurse, was summoned by the Minister of Health about a WhatsApp message she had sent to a friend which went viral. She had complained about the lack of oxygen in Malabo’s Sampaka Hospital. The day after, she appeared before a judge who put her in pretrial detention in Black Beach Prison, in Malabo. She was released without charge on 21 April.
According to Reporters without Borders, seven journalists who worked for the TV channel, Asonga, were suspended in May after they publicly criticized the use of violence by the defence and security forces to impose the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Excessive use of force
In April, people regularly posted videos on social media which showed the police using violence against people while enforcing the lockdown. Many of those attacked were street sellers, particularly women, whose stalls were destroyed.
Right to a fair trial
In March, a military court in Oveng Asem (a city on the mainland) convicted 10 men in connection with membership of the Movement for the Liberation of Equatorial Guinea Third Republic (MLGE3R), an opposition group. They were sentenced following a trial held behind closed doors to a total of 734 years’ imprisonment for treason, verbal abuse/insult against the head of state, and espionage. Four of them – two Spanish nationals of Equatorial Guinean origin and two Equatorial Guineans resident in Spain – had been abducted in South Sudan and transferred to Equatorial Guinea in November 2019. Their whereabouts remained unknown for several months until they were reported to be in Black Beach Prison and then transferred to Mongomo Prison on the mainland. The Spanish nationals were denied access to their embassy representatives.
Human rights defenders
Freedom of association
The authorities continued to place obstacles in the way of NGOs seeking to register their organizations. In 2019, the government had accepted recommendations during the UN Universal Periodic Review process to reform Law 1/1999 which regulates NGO registration, but failed to modify the law.
In June, Somos+, a civil society platform, submitted an application for legal registration to the Ministry of the Interior and Local Corporations. Several days later, they were notified by this body that their application should be validated by the General Direction of Human Rights, although such validation is not required by law. In August, Somos+ representatives met with the Interior Minister who interviewed them about their activities and reminded them that they needed to register before they carried out any activities.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
In February, Joaquín Elo Ayeto, a Somos+ member, was released without explanation from Black Beach Prison where he had been held for almost one year following his arbitrary arrest in February 2019. Although he was tried in 2019 for defamation and threats against the President, he was not given any information about his sentence. He was released on the President’s orders after the President met the Secretary General of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy Party.
Draft legislation regulating sex work and LGBTI rights remained under consultation at the ministerial level. Although the draft would prohibit some forms of discrimination, it included a provision to safeguard the “moral integrity of the social majority”, implicitly perpetuating discrimination against LGBTI people and sex workers, and included a ban on gay pride events. The draft legislation also included a provision requiring the government to establish a “social reintegration” policy for LGBTI people who voluntarily abandoned their homosexuality.