Ramón Esono Ebalé is a cartoonist and illustrator from Equatorial Guinea who was arrested and jailed when he returned to his country in August to renew his passport. Now his six-year-old daughter, Cecilia Vaello Esono, keeps repeating to herself: “I don’t understand”. With her whole world shattered, Cecilia does not understand why her daddy is still missing after two months, nor does she understand why he doesn’t call her anymore. The rest of her family and her father’s friends cannot understand his detention either.
Those who know Ramón describe him as a man with a deep sense of fairness who uses his drawings to denounce injustices wherever he sees them. There is no doubt that Ramón loves his country, where his childhood friends and family still live. But he cannot ignore the lack of freedoms and widespread injustices rampant in his homeland, and responds in the best way he knows: by taking up paper and pencil. Many of his cartoons appear in the book La Pesadilla de Obi (Obi’s nightmare) and he writes a blog called Las locuras de Jamón y Queso (The crazy things of Ham and Cheese). What in other countries would be considered peaceful freedom of expression has landed Ramón in a jail cell in Equatorial Guinea.
Ramón had been out of the country for more than six years. On 16 September, the cartoonist and two of his friends, both Spanish nationals, were arrested as they left a restaurant in the capital Malabo. They were taken to a police station where Ramón was interrogated about his cartoons and reprimanded for publicly criticizing the government. His friends were later released while three days later, Ramón was moved to Black Beach prison while state TV reported that he had been arrested for money laundering and counterfeiting — charges that made no sense to anyone who knows Ramón. Despite the accusations of money laundering and counterfeiting, and after two months in jail, the cartoonist has still not been formally charged, causing him great uncertainty.
Ramón’s lawyers are confident that they will easily be able to prove that the case against him is a sham as soon as charges are filed. They believe his arrest is designed to intimidate anyone else who might also dare to criticize the government of Equatorial Guinea.
With her father’s fate still so uncertain, Ramón’s daughter Cecilia is in such a constant state of distress that she often starts to cry when she thinks about her dad. She cannot understand why he is not allowed to come home. Like Cecilia, many other people around the world cannot understand arbitrary arrest and detention either. Ramón belongs at home with his loved ones.