Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is frequently cited as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. The government has overseen rampant corruption, failed development policies and a systematically orchestrated clampdown on independent political dissent.read more
On 16th April 2017, two civil society activists, Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve, were arbitrarily detained in Equatorial Guinea.
On 16th April 2017, two civil society activists, Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve, were arbitrarily detained in Equatorial Guinea. Asumu and Okenve are the president and vice president, respectively, of the independent civil society organisation, El Centro de Estudios e Iniciativas para el Desarrollo (Centre for Development Studies and Initiatives - CEID). They were arrested as they boarded a return flight to Bata, where they reside, after a two-day event in the capital, Malabo, commemorating CEID’s 20th-year anniversary. The Deputy Prime Minister interrogated the activists for more than five hours and took them to a prison in Malabo, where they have remained in detention. The authorities also imposed a fine of 10-million CFA (approximately 15,000 EUR) on CEID for “operating while suspended”.
CEID facilitates civic engagement on human rights, good governance, as well as community and rural development. The organisation also raises awareness about the management and use of natural resources in the country. In March 2016, Equatorial Guinean authorities issued an order to suspend the organisation's activities indefinitely. They accused CEID of violating the country’s public order law by disseminating messages aimed at inciting youth to violence and civil disobedience. In September 2016, however, CEID announced that it was resuming its operations, and has since then organised several events attended by various public officials, including the Prime Minister.
The organisation is now concerned about the safety and security of its members who have already been summoned to report to the authorities on their participation in the 20th anniversary events earlier in April.
On 24th April, CIVICUS issued a public statement on the arrests, declaring:
"The arbitrariness of the detention of Enrique Asumu and Alfredo Okenve is symptomatic of the political environment in Equatorial Guinea. Earlier this year, in February 2017, CIVICUS spoke to Alfredo Okenve about the situation in the country revealing a sorry picture of public protests being violently repressed; a majority of civil society organisations being heavily influenced by the state; close monitoring of independent civil society by the authorities; restriction of online freedoms through routine blocking of websites and social media; and the labelling of those expressing democratic dissent as ‘enemies of the state".
In addition, seven human organisations have called on the authorities to immediately release the two civil society leaders. In a joint statement, the organisations highlighted the fact that oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is currently applying to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an effort that brings together governments, companies and civil society to encourage better governance over natural resources. The EITI requires member governments to foster an enabling environment for civil society.
Elisa Peter, Executive Director of Publish What You Pay, commented on the situation, affirming that:
"These detentions make the government’s promises to respect civil society as part of its bid to join EITI ring hollow. They threaten to topple the country’s EITI candidacy and send the message that the government will not tolerate independent voices".
While article 11 of the Constitution recognises freedom of association, in practice people face several serious obstacles to the full enjoyment of this right.
While article 11 of the Constitution recognises freedom of association, in practice people face several serious obstacles to the full enjoyment of this right. All political parties, labour unions and other associations must register with government. Registering a CSO is a complex and time-consuming process, with the strong possibility of politically motivated refusals. CSOs that are not legally registered are unable to access government funding for their work. Furthermore, restrictions on civil society actors working on any human rights issue mean that there are no legally registered human rights organisations in Equatorial Guinea. In this context, CSOs operating in the areas of human rights, rule of law, anti-corruption and anti-poverty are particularly susceptible to government persecution. Opposition political parties and trade unions are also subject to recurrent threats and harassment despite their recognition in law.
Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by Article 13, but in reality anti-government demonstrations are prohibited.
Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by Article 13, but in reality anti-government demonstrations are prohibited. Protest organisers in Equatorial Guinea face severe consequences if they fail to receive prior authorisation, accept compulsory attendance of government officials or comply with restrictions on advertising the gathering. In practice the government rarely approves permits for gatherings. Assemblies that are triggered spontaneously or occur without a permit are typically severely repressed. In March 2015 a protest erupted over the system for granting university scholarships. In the cities of Bata and Malabo, at least 56 people – including children, students and opposition party members - were arrested and held for two weeks without charge. Many victims reported violence during their arrest and detention at the hands of security forces, who acted with impunity.
People in Equatorial Guinea are unable to freely express their views and opinions. Media freedom is non-existent while legalised, government-sanctioned censorship severely undermines independent dissent.
People in Equatorial Guinea are unable to freely express their views and opinions. Media freedom is non-existent while legalised, government-sanctioned censorship severely undermines independent dissent. A stringent legislative framework enables the government to restrict media through prepublication censorship. A culture of self-censorship amongst journalists thrives out of a fear of reprisals. Nearly all media outlets are controlled by the government and people are unable to access international news sources. The few private media outlets that do exist are also controlled by the government. Even with one of the lowest Internet penetrations on the African continent, at least 20 websites, including social media and independent sites, are routinely blocked by the government.