Equatorial Guinea:  Human rights defenders facing arbitrary arrests, attacks and persecution

Human rights defenders and activists in Equatorial Guinea are facing arbitrary arrests, attacks and persecution for their work, Amnesty International said today.

In a new report published today, while the country chairs until the end of the month the UN Security Council, and ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May, Amnesty International highlights the authorities’ failure to respect and implement the commitments they made to ensure human rights defenders, activists and journalists work in an environment free from intimidation, harassment, violence and arrests.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, whose country currently chairs the UN Security Council, should take this opportunity to show the world his government is committed to improving its egregious human rights record.
arta Colomer, Amnesty International’s West Africa Campaigner.

“Five years ago, the authorities promised to put an end to harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, activists and members of the opposition. These human rights violations are unfortunately continuing. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly have been steadily strangled,” said Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s West Africa Campaigner.

“President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, whose country currently chairs the UN Security Council, should take this opportunity to show the world his government is committed to improving its egregious human rights record. A first step would be for the authorities to thoroughly, independently, transparently and effectively investigate all threats and attacks against human rights defenders and activists and bring to justice those suspected to be responsible.”

The report highlights several cases of human rights defenders targeted in the last five years. They include Alfredo Okenve, the vice president of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID) who was beaten on 27 October 2018 by unidentified armed men using the butts of their guns and sticks. They later took his wallet with his documents and mobile phone, before abandoning him in a remote area outside of Bata, a city in the Littoral Province.

Prior to this attack, Alfredo Okenve and Enrique Asumu, the president of CEID, were arrested and interrogated by the National Security Minister, a day after the authorities had prevented Asumu from boarding a flight from the capital Malabo to the city of Bata. The activists were not brought before a judge within 24 hours, nor were they charged within 72 hours, as provided for by law. They were finally released.

Ramón Esono Ebalé cartoonist and activist whose work is perceived to be critical of the human rights situation in the country has been living abroad for several years. He returned to Equatorial Guinea in August 2017 to renew his passport and was arrested on 16 September when leaving a restaurant with two Spanish nationals.

The three of them were handcuffed, had their mobile phones confiscated and were questioned by more than a dozen security agents, regarding their reason for being in the country and the relationship among them.  The two Spanish nationals were released. Ramón’s charge of “counterfeiting money” was dropped when the main witness retracted his testimony against him and admitted that he had been asked to falsely accuse Ramón of counterfeiting activities. Ramón Esono was released on 7 March 2018.  However, he was not able to leave Equatorial Guinea until 28 May 2018, when he finally received his new passport.

The report also documents how opposition members and political activists are targeted. Among them is Joaquin Elo Ayeto, a member of the opposition party Convergence for Social Democracy. He has been detained several times, including on 29 November 2016 when two military officers severely beat him after he had posted an online article about the refusal by one of the officers to pay a road toll. After this incident, Ayeto sued the two officers. He was told by a judge that his article was giving a bad image to the country.

He was then arrested and detained for more than a month. For the first five days of his detention he was held in solitary confinement. When the judicial year resumed, the court decided to release him. He has never been told why he was detained.  On 27 June 2017, Joaquin Elo was again arrested for taking part in an event calling for justice for the killing of a young taxi driver. He was released a week later.  

It is time for Equatorial Guinea to abide by its international human rights obligations including by ensuring full respect for the rights of human rights defenders and activists.
Marta Colomer

“For many years, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s government has persistently engaged in serious violations of human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. These must stop now,” said Marta Colomer.

“It is time for Equatorial Guinea to abide by its international human rights obligations including by ensuring full respect for the rights of human rights defenders and activists.”