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Rights Groups Slam Equatorial Guinea on 'Political Arrests'

Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, opening ceremony of African Nations Cup soccer tournament, Bata, Jan. 21, 2012.
Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, opening ceremony of African Nations Cup soccer tournament, Bata, Jan. 21, 2012.
Jennifer Lazuta
DAKAR—Human rights groups are calling on Equatorial Guinea to stop arresting opposition politicians, in what the groups describe as an effort to secure an advantage ahead of the 2013 legislative polls.
 
Human Rights Watch has reported that Equatorial Guinean authorities detained opposition party leader Daniel Dario Martinez Ayecaba as he tried to board a plane in the capital, Malabo, on December 4th. The New York-based organization said Dario is at least the fourth opposition member to be detained since November 2011.
 
Joseph Kraus, program and development manager for EG Justice, a Washington-based organization that works on human rights issues in Equatorial Guinea, said Dario, who was on his way to Madrid where he planned to attend a conference hosted by an opposition party, was arrested without a warrant.
 
“He was detained by security forces who took him to a local jail, which is locally known as Guantanamo, and he was questioned there for about five hours before he was then released," said Kraus. "So they took his passport and was instructed that he was not to leave Malabo, which is the capital city. He’s required to report back daily to the minister of security.”
 
In the three other known cases, HRW officials said charges were either never filed or the sentence was later pardoned following conviction. HRW said one of the men, a medical doctor, continues to appeal large fines and a five-year suspension of his medical license. One of the doctor's attorneys, the group said, had his legal license suspended for two years.
 
Kraus called the events “business as usual” in Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979.
 
“His regime has a long record of using oppressive tactics to keeping the population in check," said Kraus. "This is how they live their daily lives — under fear of being harassed by the government.”
 
A government spokesman contacted by VOA declined to comment on Dario’s case and other recent allegations. In the past, however, the government has rejected allegations of human rights abuses.
 
“Our president has always maintained his firm support to defend human rights in our country," said one statement issued to media outlets. “President Obiang has been committed and works continuously to create initiatives that are facilitating the radical development of our country and the human rights of its population.”
 
Kraus said the statements indicating an intention to improve the country's human rights situation, which have been issued with increasing frequency in recent years, have yet to be transformed into action.
 
“They say this in public speeches and they make overtures to diplomats, but when it comes down to actually carrying out these commitments through action, we see that they repeatedly violate the civil liberties of citizens, the human rights of citizenry," he said.
 
Rights advocates have said the recent arrests of opposition members do not bode well for legislative elections planned for next year.
 
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Equatorial Guinea as the fifth most censored country in the world, and HRW notes the opposition party holds just one of the 100 seats in the country’s House of Representatives.

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