Equatorial Guinea: Archbishop of Cantebury welcomes release of pastor from five-year detention

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has welcomed the release of a pastor who had been detained for five years without charge or trial in Equatorial Guinea.

Protestant pastor Reverend Bienvenido Samba Momesori was released on 11 June after being granted a pardon by the country’s President Obiang on his 66th birthday.

Reverend Bienvenido Samba had been detained since October 2003 after he was arrested outside his church in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. For a while Reverend Samba was held incommunicado and his family were not given information of his whereabouts.

Throughout his detention, Reverend Samba was neither charged nor was his case ever brought to court.

In February 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, wrote a column in the weekly periodical New Statesman, highlighting Reverend Samba’s case. In the Amnesty International column, ‘It could have been me’, Dr Williams challenged readers to support the release of Reverend Samba. He wrote:

“…To let this go unchallenged in any area is to sell the pass for universal justice. And that is not an option for any religious person, or indeed anyone who thinks human dignities and liberties are more than a local arrangement for the convenience of the prosperous.”

This article received widespread coverage in international media, particularly in Spain. When Reverend Samba’s family found out about this article, they were particularly moved. And it is believed that international media attention given to the case led to his release.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said:

“I am delighted to learn of the release of Reverend Bienvenido Samba and very happy for his family.

“It underlines the importance of international expression of concern for prisoners of conscience. No-one should be forgotten and allowed to suffer without voices of solidarity and protest.”

It is thought that Reverend Bienvenido Samba was detained solely on the grounds of peaceful political opinion and his ethnic origin. Reverend Samba is from the ethnic group native to Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea, known as Bubi.

Amnesty International declared Reverend Bienvenido Samba to be a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his release for years.

Upon his release, Reverend Samba spoke to Amnesty International and said:
"I want to thank you and congratulate you for the work you do and for getting me free. I knew of your work because two years ago I received a letter in prison, from a woman in Spain who said she was a member of an NGO.

“It was a miracle that I received it. I also received the letters sent to me via the lawyer Fabian. And when you published your Annual Report I heard on Radio Exterior de España [The Spanish world service radio] my name mentioned and that you have been working on my behalf since my arrest in October 2002.

“Thank you for your solidarity"

Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen, said:

“We are delighted to hear of Reverend Bienvenido Samba’s release. We are heartened to know that the campaigning carried out by Amnesty activists across the world may have contributed to his release.”

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