The uplifting news of the release on July 9, 2015 of Italian businessman Roberto Berardi from prison in Equatorial Guinea, where he spent the last 30 months of his life, is a cause for celebration; but there are still other women and men left behind in prison, unjustly, who should also be released.
Berardi should have been released on May 19, 2015 after completing a 28-month sentence for alleged misappropriation of company funds; but on the day of his scheduled released, the judicial authorities decided that Berardi should spend another six weeks in prison. In the end, he spent two extra days in addition to the six weeks.
In Equatorial Guinea today, many remain in prison after being convicted of crimes in trials, including by military courts, which fell short of international human rights standards governing trials, where no evidence was presented to substantiate the charges against the defendants.
One such case is that of former military officer Cipriano Nguema Mba, who is serving a 27-year sentence after being convicted in October 2014, of threatening state security and the physical integrity of the Head of State (atentado contra la forma de gobierno y la integridad física del Jefe de de Estado). His trial by a military tribunal was grossly unfair. No evidence was presented to prove the case against him and his co-defendants. He was denied the assistance of counsel of his choice; instead a military officer with no legal training was allocated to defend him. Furthermore, he did not have the right to appeal against his conviction and sentence.
Cipriano Nguema was a refugee in Belgium when he was abducted by Equatorial Guinea security personnel in December 2013 while visiting relatives in Nigeria. He was flown clandestinely to Equatorial Guinea and taken to the National Security Headquarters in the capital city, Malabo, where he was tortured on several occasions before he was transferred to Black Beach prison. He was held without charge for some seven months and incommunicado for well over a year. Under international human rights law, incommunicado detention amounts to cruel and inhumane treatment; and torture is forbidden by national as well as international human rights law.
Cipriano Nguema’s co-defendants, Antonio Ncomi Sima, Ticiano Obama Nkogo and Timoteo Asumu were arrested without a warrant in early January 2014, in Malabo, following Cipriano Nguema’s abduction. They too, were held without charges for seven months, and incommunicado for over a year. They were also found guilty and convicted of the same crime as Cipriano Nguema. While Timoteo Asumu was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the others were given a 27-year custodial sentence.
Guillermo Nguema Ela and Luis Nzo Ondo, members of the unregistered opposition political party, Fuerza Demócrata Republicana (Democratic Republican Force) are not free. In March 2015, both men were arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully banished to their respective villages of origin, which they are not allowed to leave.
Guillermo Nguema was arbitrarily arrested at his home in Malabo in the afternoon of March 17, 2015, the day before the official launch of a new political coalition, the Frente de Oposición Democrática (Democratic Opposition Front). Later that day, he was secretly put on plane to Mongomo on the mainland, and taken to his village of origin.
Luis Nzo was arrested two days later, on March 19, while distributing pamphlets and using a megaphone to denounce the arrest and banishment of Guillermo Nguema. He was beaten and arrested in the street in Malabo by several police officers. A few hours after his arrest, Luis Nzo was also put on a plane and banished to his village outside Mongomo, where he remains.
Equatorial Guinea’s penal code allows for banishment to be imposed as sentences by a judicial authority. However, it is the police and civilian authorities who unlawfully impose banishments, especially against political opponents.
In addition, dozens of people are held in police stations in Bata and Malabo, accused of various crimes, who have not been brought before a judge to hear their case and formalize their detention if appropriate. Most detainees are held for weeks; many for months. Among them are scores of nationals from neighbouring countries suspected of being undocumented migrants.
Equatorial Guinea law stipulates that all detainees must be brought before a judge within 72 hours. All detainees, including foreign nationals must be dealt with promptly and fairly. International human rights law state that unless detainees are promptly charged with a recognisably criminal offence they must be released.