Serious concern over the arbitrary arrest of two civil society leaders
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".