Political tension increased throughout the year and the authorities continued to stifle opposition by harassing, arresting and briefly detaining political activists. There was an upsurge in the number of arrests in the run-up to the AU summit in June. In November, at least 30 detainees, apparently held as hostages, were acquitted by a military court and released. They had been held since October 2010 in incommunicado detention without charge or trial. Five prisoners of conscience and 17 political prisoners were released in a presidential pardon. Freedom of expression and assembly continued to be curtailed and journalists were briefly detained or suspended from their functions. Constitutional reforms giving more power to the President were approved in a referendum in November.
In January, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo took over the rotating presidency of the AU, and in June hosted the AU summit in the capital, Malabo. The same month, the President signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
In September, French police investigating the alleged misuse of Equatorial Guinea’s oil revenues by President Obiang and his family seized several luxury cars belonging to his eldest son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, from outside his residence in Paris. Also in September, a French court acquitted the French NGO Terre Solidaire of charges of defamation brought against them by President Obiang. The charges related to a report published by Terre Solidaire in 2009 referring to “ill-gotten gains” by President Obiang and his family.
In October the US Justice Department filed a legal claim with the federal court to seize the President’s son’s property and other assets in the USA, alleging they were obtained by plundering Equatorial Guinea’s natural resources and transferred to the USA through corruption.Top of page
Following mass protests in North Africa and the Middle East, President Obiang announced in March that he would reform the Constitution to broaden the judicial framework for the exercise of fundamental freedoms and increase people’s opportunities to participate in the county’s political affairs. In May he set up a commission to draft the reforms and appointed its members, including representatives of political parties. The country’s only two independent political parties, Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) and the People’s Union, refused to participate in the commission on the grounds that their demands for a general amnesty and the safe return of exiles had not been met. They also objected to President Obiang appointing their representatives to the commission. In July the Chamber of People’s Representatives approved the reform proposals without debate, and in October President Obiang announced a date for a referendum on the reforms. However, the text of the proposed reforms was not made available to the public, and political parties received the text just two weeks before the referendum. On 13 November the reforms were approved by referendum with 97.7 per cent of the votes. The referendum was conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment of voters, with armed police and soldiers present in polling stations. In Bata, several representatives of political parties observing the voting were expelled from polling stations; some were briefly detained and beaten. The reforms increased the President’s powers further, including after he leaves office. Although it limited the presidential terms in office to two consecutive seven-year terms, it removed the age limit for presidential candidates, previously set at 75 years, created the position of vice-president who will be appointed by the President and who must be a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, and created a Senate and Audit Court, whose members will be appointed by the President, as will the newly-created Ombudsman. The revised Constitution was not promulgated at the end of the year.Top of page
Political opponents and some 100 students were arrested and briefly detained prior to the AU summit in June. There were further politically motivated arrests in the run-up to a referendum on constitutional reforms in November.
At least 30 people held incommunicado and without charge in Bata prison were released after being acquitted by a military court in November. They were arrested in October 2010, following the escape from Evinayong prison of two political prisoners, together with six prison guards who also fled. Those held were mostly relatives and friends of the escaped prisoners and people suspected of aiding their escape. They included women and a six-month-old child. In mid-November, all the detainees were unexpectedly tried by a military court in Bata, charged with assisting the prisoners’ escape. All civilians and most military detainees were acquitted and released, while around six military and police officers were convicted and sentenced to prison terms that were not made public. Despite the acquittal of most of the defendants, the trial did not conform to international fair trial standards.Top of page
Freedom of expression remained curtailed, with the press firmly under state control. Reports deemed as unfavourable by the authorities were suppressed. In February the government ordered a news blackout on events in North Africa, the Middle East and Côte d’Ivoire. Journalists were briefly detained and foreign journalists were expelled from the country. The NGO Reporters Without Borders was denied visas to visit Equatorial Guinea in April for referring to President Obiang in pejorative terms.
Although guaranteed by the country’s Constitution, the authorities continued to suppress freedom of assembly.
Five prisoners of conscience, Emiliano Esono Micha, Cruz Obiang Ebebere, Gumersindo Ramírez Faustino, Juan Ekomo Ndong and Gerardo Angüe, who had been serving six-year custodial sentences since 2008 for illicit association and alleged possession of arms and ammunition, were released in June following a pardon on the occasion of President Obiang’s birthday. Seventeen political prisoners, who may have been prisoners of conscience, and who were serving long sentences for alleged attempts to overthrow the government, were also pardoned and released. All were made to sign a document thanking President Obiang for his benevolence and undertaking not to commit offences similar to those for which they were pardoned.Top of page