New York — The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed news that Equatoguinean cartoonist and blogger Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé is free from prison after serving more than five months in a Malabo jail on false charges of money laundering and counterfeiting.
Judge Agustín Chicampo Barila, of the Malabo Provincial Chamber, acquitted Ebalé after the state's main witness, a policeman, recanted under cross-examination on February 27 and said he had only been following orders when he implicated Ebalé in criminal activity, said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, a U.S. based organization advocating for human rights in Equatorial Guinea. The state indicated it could not proceed with the case and the judge formally acquitted Ebalé, who was released from prison today.
"We are pleased that Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé is free, but the fact that he was acquitted after the state's chief witness recanted underscores the point that authorities manufactured these charges in the first place," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. "This prison stint was straight up retaliation for Ebalé's cartoons and blogs that were critical of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema."
Ebalé, known by the pen name Jamón y Queso, was arrested on September 16 and interrogated by police about his work as a cartoonist, specifically his online drawings of Obiang, according to CPJ research. Cartoonists' abilities to transcend borders and languages and to simplify complex political situations exposes them to unique threats, CPJ found in its 2015 special report, "Drawing the Line."
CPJ worked with a global #FreeNseRamon coalition of human rights groups to advocate for Ebalé's release, and today signed onto a joint press release upon his being freed.