Equatorial Guinea: Flawed Trial of Alleged Coup Plotter Ends With Ludicrous Sentences

press release

Equatorial Guinea's prosecution of dozens of detainees accused of financing terrorism and plotting to assassinate President Obiang has been characterized by gross violations of due process of law, which ended with sentences ranging from 3 years to 90 years.

In December 2017, security forces in Equatorial Guinea detained and accused more than 80 men of plotting attacks against the Head of State. The authorities alleged that the suspects, mostly Equatoguinean, along with a few immigrants from Chad and Cameroon, were acquiring and transporting guns and ammunition for the purpose of committing terrorist acts in Equatorial Guinea.  Most of the suspects were severely and repeatedly tortured in Black Beach prison. Furthermore, all suspects were held in incommunicado detention, without access to their family members or legal counsel, from the time of their arrest to the end of March, when the trials commenced.

"Equatorial Guinea must cease to torture and hold prisoners incommunicado, without access to legal counsel," said Tutu Alicante, Executive Director of EG Justice.

"That lawyers were not able to meet with their clients, who have been brutally tortured to confess and admit guilt, until the day before trial is a gross violation of due process; similarly, that the defense was forbidden from introducing testimony about the torture to their clients, even though the prosecution used the confessions obtained under torture to convict, is outrageous and tell us all we need to know about Equatorial Guinea."

The trial started on March 22, and it involved dozens of Equatoguinean, Chadian, and Cameroonian suspects present in the courtroom—including Mr. Fulgencio Obiang Esono and Mr. Francisco Eko Micha, both of whom had been kidnapped in Togo and rendered to Equatorial Guinea.  Additionally a dozen Equatoguinean opposition politicians based in Spain and in the UK were tried in absentia.

Many of the suspects were detained simply because they were related to suspects that were in exile and thus out of the government of Equatorial Guinea' reach. Defense lawyers only gained accessed to their clients and to the state's evidence against their clients, one day before trial. Once at trial, the presiding judge banned any mentioning or introduction of evidence about the torture of the suspects. Despite the clear indications of torture, the presiding judge dismissed the requests to introduce testimonies of the cruel and degrading punishment sustained in prison.

On April 22, the presiding judge unjustifiably and unilaterally suspended the trial proceedings for a week. The state added two military prosecutors and two military magistrates, in addition to new charges against some of the suspects.  This was in clear contravention of Equatoguinean law, which states that "… when military and civilians are accused of a crime, a civilian court will oversee the trial."  Following the inclusion of the military prosecutors and magistrates, the tribunal used the military code indiscriminately and conveniently to silence the defense and secure convictions.

"The whole trial was a gross abuse of prosecution, and charade to further erode fair trial rights," added Tutu Alicante. "The laws stipulate that a tribunal must be created before crimes are committed; but in this case, an ad-hoc tribunal was created and later fortified with military prosecutors and magistrates hand-picked by President Obiang to send a message to anyone who dares to question his authority."

Equatorial Guinea should dismiss the sentence issued on May 31, 2019 given the systematic violation of basic due process of law principles, the use of evidence obtained through torture to secure conviction, and the appalling number of fair trial irregularities that completely discredit the trial.

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