Washington — The authorities in Equatorial Guinea should immediately investigate the alleged enforced disappearance of a top human rights lawyer who has been unaccounted for since the evening of October 22, 2012, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch said today.
Fabián Nsue Nguema, a prominent and respected human rights lawyer who is also active with an opposition party, went to Black Beach prison in Malabo, the country's capital, on the afternoon of October 22 to try to see a client. He was last in contact with persons close to him by phone from the prison before 5pm. He has not been heard from since.
Nsue has been harassed by the government on numerous occasions, raising concerns that he may have been unlawfully detained. In 2002 he was tortured while in government custody.
"Fabian Nsue's disappearance while visiting a prison is of grave concern," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to urgently investigate the situation, determine whether he is being held in secret detention, contrary to national and international law, and publicly clarify his whereabouts."
Sources inside the country said that Nsue went to Black Beach prison at midday local time on October 22 to meet with a client, Augustín Nzogo. In the late afternoon, Nsue spoke by phone with an acquaintance to say that he was still waiting to see his client. At approximately 5 p.m., those trying to reach him on his phone discovered that his phone had been cut off. Nsue failed to return home that evening.
Sources close to Nsue informed Human Rights Watch that those who went to the prison and asked for him were refused access. However, one family member was able to gain access to the prison and said they had seen him there, in detention. Human Rights Watch has not been able to speak directly to this family member to confirm the account.
Sources have told EG Justice and Human Rights Watch that Nsue's car was still in the prison parking lot on the afternoon of October 23.
"Nsue's career as a lawyer has been dedicated to fighting injustice and upholding the law, even in the face of harsh government repression," said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, a US-based group that advocates for human rights and the rule of law in Equatorial Guinea. "The authorities must fully respect his rights and clarify his whereabouts without delay."
Equatorial Guinean law prohibits secret and warrantless detentions, and stipulates that charges against an accused must be filed within 72 hours of the arrest. Authorities have violated these laws on multiple occasions in recent months, including the detentions of Florentino Manguire and Wenceslao Mansogo.
An enforced disappearance -that is when a person is deprived of his or her liberty and then there is a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of liberty or to give information on the whereabouts of that person- is a crime under international law, and prohibited in all circumstances.