Opposition Leaders Jailed for 20 Years Each

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 10 June 2002

Some 68 opposition leaders in Equatorial Guinea have been sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to 20 years for reportedly plotting to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, news agencies reported on Monday.

They include Felipe Ondo, head of the Democratic Republican Force and Severo Moto of the Progress Party. Each received 20 year jail terms. Placibo Mico Abogo of the Party for Democratic and Social Convergence, received 14 years along with 15 other defendants, Reuters reported.

Another 76 accused were freed in the Sunday trial, Reuters added. They were part of at least 140 opposition politicians detained following the 1997 reported coup attempt. At the start of the trial on 23 May, in the capital Malabo, prosecution had asked for the death sentence.

The European Union in Madrid, Spain, expressed concern on Monday about procedural irregularities during the trial, allegations of torture and physical abuse of the accused, and the weakness of elements of evidence that contrasts with the severity of the sentences.

Another human rights NGO, the International Olof Palme Foundation which observed the trial, said it was aimed at eliminating the opposition ahead of elections in February 2003.

Last week, the media watchdog, Reporters sans frontieres (RSF), expressed concern that the independent press were not allowed to freely and safely cover the trial. RSF wrote to President Nguema expressing its concern about the constant degradation of press freedom in Equatorial Guinea.

At the start of the year, the West African country commenced a widespread crackdown on the opposition on charges ranging from breach of national security to insulting the head of state. A United Nations official in April reported that massive detentions of political opponents had occurred since March. Gustavo Gallon Giraldo, the former UN special representative for Equatorial Guinea, said that the human rights situation in the country ‘was serious’ and deserved close monitoring.

Amnesty International warned in a report issued in mid-April that ending Giraldo's mandate was likely to compound the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

The UN Commission on Human Rights, however terminated Giraldo's mandate on 19 April, and resolved to encourage the government of Equatorial Guinea to implement a national human rights action plan. A government representative had told the commission that in recent years there had been no politically motivated disappearances or arrests, arbitrary detentions, political kidnappings, ethnic violence or discrimination against ethnic groups.

Equatorial Guinea, a oil-rich country of 500,000 people is made up mainly of two islands, Bioko and Annobon, and a stretch of mainland called Rio Muni. It is bordered by Cameroon, Gabon and the Gulf of Guinea.