Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

25 October 2012

Equatorial Guinea: Lawyer Detained, Denied Visits - Wife Threatened for Seeking Access - Government Maintains Silence

press release

Washington — Authorities in Equatorial Guinea have arbitrarily detained the prominent lawyer Fabián Nsue Nguema in Black Beach prison in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, and are refusing to allow him visitors, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch said today.

Nsue's wife told Human Rights Watch that she was twice refused when she asked to see her husband but that prison authorities had privately confirmed to her that he is being held there.

Nsue's wife told Human Rights Watch that a prison official threatened her when she attempted to visit her husband on October 24, 2012. She filed a petition with a court in Malabo on October 23 regarding his disappearance, but has received no official response. She intends to file a habeas corpus petition on October 25.

"We are deeply troubled that the authorities of Equatorial Guinea appear to be holding Nsue without charge and that he's being denied his right to have visitors," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "They should charge or release him without delay and urgently investigate the reported threat against his wife."

Nsue has been harassed by the government on numerous occasions, raising concerns that his detention is politically motivated. In 2002 he was tortured while in government custody.

Nsue disappeared on October 22 while attempting to visit a client in Black Beach prison. For over 24 hours as family members sought information on Nsue's whereabouts, officials refused to provide information. His wife tried to visit the prison on October 23 in search of Nsue, but was turned away without any confirmation of his whereabouts. Another family member was able to enter the prison that afternoon and saw Nsue there.

Then at 9 a.m. on October 24, Nsue's wife was allowed to enter the prison compound and was informed by prison officials that her husband was being held there. However, a prison official told her that she was not allowed to see Nsue "on orders from above." The official threatened that if she continued to insist on seeing Nsue she could wind up behind bars just like her husband. 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.

Nsue's arrest without a warrant, and his secret and incommunicado detention, violate both domestic and international law.

Several other people have also been arrested without warrant or due process in the past 10 days, sources in Equatorial Guinea told EG Justice. Nsue was arbitrarily detained after he had repeatedly tried to visit a client, Agustín Esono Nsogo, in the prison. Esono, head of San Agustín, a secondary school in Bata, had been detained at his home in Bata on October 17, then transferred to Black Beach prison, the sources in Equatorial Guinea told EG Justice.

The reason for Esono's arrest and detention are unknown, and it is unclear if he has been formally charged with a crime. The sources told EG Justice that the authorities returned to his home following the arrest, searched the house, and took away a suitcase.

Informed sources inside the country also told EG Justice that on October 18, Mansueto Nsogo Mba, a teacher of French at the San Agustin school, was detained by three plain-clothes agents, and taken to an unknown location.

"The recent spate of arbitrary detentions raises serious concerns about the government's pledged commitment to human rights and judicial reforms," said Tutu Alicante, the director of EG Justice, which presses for human rights and rule of law in Equatorial Guinea. "The government needs to formally charge Nsue with a crime, or release him without prejudice."

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