Equatorial Guinea: African Cup of Nations peaceful protesters must be released

Equatorial Guinea must immediately and unconditionally release three men arrested for peacefully protesting against the country’s hosting of Africa’s top football competition, a group of leading international human rights and transparency organisations said today.

Amnesty International, the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España, EG Justice, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and the Plataforma Portuguesa das ONGD are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Celestino Okenve, Antonio Nguema and Miguel Mbomio.

The men were arrested two weeks ago on the eve of  African Cup of Nations tournament, which runs until 8 February.

Okenve - a retired professor from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, coordinator of the Solidarity Forum for Equatorial Guinea, and a well-known blogger and political activist - was arrested without a warrant on 14 January, while distributing leaflets in the city of Bata, in the northwest of the country. The leaflets called for a boycott of the tournament, which opened on 17 January. He was hit as he was arrested by a group of seven police officers. According to Amnesty, the arrest was ordered by the governor for Wele Nzas province who told Okenve that what he was doing was wrong and against the President.

Police also arrested Antonio Nguema, a former student of Okenve, who was present at the event. He was not handing out leaflets but was arrested when asking police on what grounds they were arresting Okenve. Both men were taken to Bata Central Police Station where Okenve again demanded to know the reason for his arrest and was again hit by a police officer.

On 16 January, a third man, Miguel Mbomio, was arrested in Bata for holding a copy of the pamphlet criticising the staging of the football tournament. He did not know Okenve or about his detention but had gone to Bata Central Police Station to deal with a private matter. The police officer on duty noticed the leaflet he was holding and arrested him.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, said:

“Exercising freedom of expression should never be the basis for imprisonment, and reflects poorly on Equatorial Guinea’s role as host of the Africa Cup of Nations. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release these human rights activists, whom Amnesty International considers to be Prisoners of Conscience.

“Authorities must also ensure that the activists are effectively protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and that they have regular access to a lawyer of their choice, their family and adequate medical care.”

Since their arrest the three men have had very limited access to their lawyers, who have not been allowed to be present during interrogations, and have not been informed of the charges against them.

Police records indicate that Okenve has been accused of “destabilisation” against the African Cup of Nations, although he has not appeared before a judge. The five organisations consider that the men are being held in arbitrary detention and have been arrested solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Notes:

The Constitution of Equatorial Guinea guarantees the right to freedom of expression under Art. 13, which further guarantees to every citizen the right not to be deprived of liberty except by court order.

Equatorial Guinea has also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which guarantee both the right to freedom of expression and the right not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily.

 

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