(Tampa, 13 May 2016) Celestino Okenve, a pro-democracy activist and leader of the political opposition group Union Popular, (UP, Popular Union) was arrested and tortured for more than 7 hours by security forces, at the express request of the Minister of Security, Mr. NicolasObama Nchama, who supervised the torture session.
Celestino Okenve, a retired professor of Telecommunications at Madrid’s School of Engineering (UPM) was elected on December 2015 as the new President of UP. He has been a vocal critic of the human rights violations and corruption that have characterized the Obiang regime in Equatorial Guinea. Most recently, he published an article in which he criticized the brutal attacks against Ciudadanos por la Innovación (CI), an opposition political party, in the eve of the presidential elections.
“It is unacceptable for the Equatoguinean government to illegally arrest and torture a leader of the opposition,” said EG Justice, Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina and Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España today. “It is even more appalling to know that a government Minister supervised the torture and interrogated Mr. Okenve, while he was being cruelly beaten. The government must act swiftly in accordance with the law and punish all perpetrators of this heinous crime, including the Minister of Security, Mr. Nicolas Obama”.
On Sunday May 1 while waiting to board a flight to Madrid, police officers arbitrarily detained Celestino Okenve. Without judicial warrant, he was taken into custody by three security officers who drove him to the Central Police station in Malabo, known as Guantanamo. His cellphone and money were taken from him.
He was taken to a room where three of officers, including the Minister of National Security, Nicolas Obama Nchama, were waiting for him. Minister Obama questioned Mr. Okenve about an article he had published denouncing the attacks against CI. After a few questions, an officer proceed to beat Mr. Okenve up in the face and neck, and placed a hood over his head making it difficult for him to breathe.
Mr. Okenve was then dragged to a basement where he was forced to kneel, while beating him in the legs. One of the officers took the hood off his head and continued punching his face and back. During the beatings, Minister Obama questioned Mr. Okenve about his involvement with the CI party, his political activities and his presence in Equatorial Guinea. At all times Mr. Okenve stressed the illegality of the use of force against protesters in closed buildings and the violations of human rights they were committing. He also keep asserting that he was the leader of an opposition party.
Following an hour of brutal beating, the Minister left and a police clerk came to take Mr. Okenve’s testimony. He was probed further about answers he had given while being interrogated under torture, and asked to explain why he had called Minister Obama Nchama a criminal in the article he had published.
After more than 7 hours of interrogation. Mr. Okenve was asked to sign several copies of his written testimony; and was subsequently informed that the Minister had ordered his release. The security officers drove him back to the airport to board the next flight to Madrid. The officers admonished him not to come back to Equatorial Guinea or else there would be serious repercussions.
“Everyone is entitled to engage in peaceful activities to promote democracy, writing an article is an exercise of the basic freedom of expression to which all human beings are entitled; similarly, justice—due process of law—is a fundamental human rights to which all are entitled,” said Tutu Alicante, Executive Director of EG Justice. “It is imperative that the government of Equatorial Guinea cease all forms of harassment against pro-democracy and human rights advocates”.
Torture and ill-treatment remain a serious problem in Equatorial Guinean prisons and other detention facilities. National and international human rights groups have documented numerous cases of detainees who reported being beaten and tortured during interrogation over the last ten years.
Article 5 of the Law to Prevent Ill Treatment and Torture provides criminal penalties against public officials who use violence to extract confessions, but the Equatoguinean judiciary rarely, if ever, prosecutes state agents alleged to have committed torture or other ill treatment.
The Obiang government has repeatedly denied that torture takes place in the country. In a February 2014 submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, his government stated that it has a firm policy “not to tolerate the practice of torture or arbitrary detention, on penalty of drastic coercive measures.” President Obiang has also declared that “there is no torture” in Equatorial Guinea, but in a speech in November during a PDGE Congress he said “tendons of criminals should be cut” so people could identified them in the streets.
The 2015 Equatorial Guinea’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices from the U.S. Department of State identified disregard for rule of law, including police use of excessive force and torture, as some of the most significant challenges in human rights in the country.
The torture and intimidation of Mr. Okenve follows the recent harassment and prosecution of other activists and opposition leaders in Equatorial Guinea for their human rights work and mobilization during the presidential elections. These presidential elections were marred in violations including censoring foreign media, not allowing independent electoral observation and not allowing the political opposition to compete on a level playing field. EG Justice documented some of the most recent violations of these basic freedoms, the irregularities that led to some political parties boycotting the elections, the violent arrests of opposition members by police forces, and the attack and siege of a political opposition party compound.
“The government of Equatorial Guinea proves once more it would not tolerate any dissent and will employ any means necessary to maintain control over the country; arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and harassment to independent voices and people belonging to or associated with the political opposition is the modus operandi of the Obiang regime” said Tutu Alicante. “This is blatant intimidation against those who work to highlight abuses committed by Equatoguinean security forces.”
The joint statement is signed by the following organizations:
Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE)
Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)