Opposition Leader at Risk of Arrest

Opposition Leader at Risk of Arrest

EG Justice May 13, 2015
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EG Justice is seriously concerned about the unfounded and chilling allegations presented against the CPDS' leader and the increased persecution of political opponents; and strongly condemns the government’s apparent drive to eliminate all vestiges of opposition in the country in the run-up to presidential elections.

(Tampa, May 13, 2015) -- The Government of Equatorial Guinea must immediately stop the harassment, intimidation and persecution of political opponents and ensure the safety and liberty of Andrés Esono, Secretary-General of the opposition political party Convergencia para la Democracia Social -CPDS (Convergence for Social Democracy), whom government officials have accused of attempting to introduce the Ebola virus into the country.

EG Justice is seriously concerned about the unfounded and chilling allegations presented against the CPDS' leader and the increased persecution of political opponents; and strongly condemns the government’s apparent drive to eliminate all vestiges of opposition in the country in the run-up to presidential elections.

"The Government of Equatorial Guinea must refrain from using the Ebola crisis to further stigmatize its political opponents,” said Tutu Alicante, EG Justice’s Executive Director. “Accusing and opening a police investigation against the opposition for allegedly planning to bring the disease into the country is nothing more than malicious and frivolous ploy to discredit and silence the opposition.”

Earlier this year, in the midst of popular fear of the Ebola virus and mistrust about the national preparedness in the case of an outbreak when the nation hosted the Cup of African Nations (CAN), the government of Equatorial Guinea accused opposition leaders of plotting to bring Ebola-infected patients into Equatorial Guinea to spread the disease and put at risk the national security.

On February 3, Mr. Crisantos Obama Ondo, the Equatoguinean representative at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), used his Facebookaccount to accuse opposition leaders of flying to the Republic of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in mid-January with the aim of “buying the Ebola virus”.  According to his statements, the opposition leaders contacted family members of an infected patient “to negotiate his transportation to Equatorial Guinea as a CAN staff”.  These claims were repeated on several occasions on state radio and television, with some changes to the story.  On March 19, Mr. Cristianos Ondo reiterated his accusationson state television, affirming he had been contacted by the family of an Ebola victim through Facebook, who told him they were contacted by opposition leaders from Equatorial Guinea who “promised to help evacuate the Ebola patient to a foreign country and pay the family 150,000 Euro”.  The allegations have since centred on CPDS and his secretary-general, Andrés Esono.

In response to the allegations, on March 2, the CPDS lodged a complaint for defamation with the Malabo Investigating Court  (Juzgado de Instrucción) against Crisantos Obama Ondo.  This involved presenting a conciliatory measure requesting the judiciary to investigate the issue before claimant seeks criminal charges against Mr. Cristianos Ondo, who failed to heed the court summons on two occasions. In view of this, on April 20, the investigating judge signed a" record of failure to appear" (acta de no comparecencia) thus allowing CPDS to pursue criminal charges against Crisantos Obama Ondo.  So far, no progress has been made to bring this case to a conclusion.

Despite this pending case filed, the authorities have embarked on an investigation against CPDS’ secretary-general, Andrés Esono, who has been interrogated by the police on two occasions, the last time on May 4. The police accused him of a crime of "propagation of a diseased aimed at the extermination of the population" which is penalized with a prison term by the Equatoguinean penal code.

The police evidence against Andrés Esono is based on inconsistent statements made by Crisantos Ondo; a contradictory statement by the brother of the alleged deceased patient together with a "confidential note" written on a computer, which is neither signed nor dated, but is said to have been written by the brother of the deceased; boarding passes for flights Dakar (Senegal) to Malabo on 20 and 28 January 2015, on the name of people other than Andrés Esono; as well as boarding passes  on the name of the alleged patient who,  it would appear, travelled to Equatorial Guinea on two occasions before he died 

Although he has not been formally accused by a court of law, Andrés Esono has been forbidden to travel outside the capital, Malabo, and risks being arrested.

On April 29, judicial authorities issued a court order forbidding Mr. Esono from leaving the city of Malabo; and authorizing the search and seizure of any of his possessions deemed relevant to a police investigation initiated against him.  Andrés Esono was not notified of this court order and only learned of its existence on May 2 when the airport police stopped him from travelling.

EG Justice urges the Government of Equatorial Guinea, in addition to immediately ceasing all forms of harassment against Mr. Andres Esono, to undertake the following reforms and policy changes:

·         Repeal all laws that restrict the internationally recognized rights for free expression, association, and assembly, and order security forces to cease arresting people for engaging in peaceful political activism;

·         Begin political reform prior to presidential election slated for the end of 2016, by establishing a truly independent electoral committee, promptly conducting a transparent national electoral census, and reforming the electoral laws, including the law applicable to local governments (Ley sobre Entidades Locales Menores) to ensure that all political parties can participate freely, without restrictions and undue impediments; and

·         Adopt measure to end abuses by the military in the rural areas, including attacks and arbitrary detentions of representatives of the opposition, torture, and confinements, and allow international media and human rights organizations to visit and monitor developments inside the country.

“Permitting government appointed officials to disparage opposition leaders, and monopolizing the state media apparatus to further allegations aimed at stigmatizing opponents is an open invitation to serious abuse that can only undermine the already weak state and government institutions.  These silencing tactics call into question President Obiang’s commitment to the democratic process in the country,” said Tutu Alicante who added that “Until Equatorial Guinea can ensure the impartiality and independence of the judiciary, it is hard to see how any ongoing investigations into this case will be fair and protect the rights of the accused.”

For more information, please contact:In Tampa, for EG Justice, Tutu Alicante (English, Spanish): +1-615-479-0207 (mobile); or tutu@egjustice.org. Twitter: @TutuAlicante, @EGJustice

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