On May 7, the Supreme Court of Equatorial Guinea upheld the February 26 decision to dissolve Citizens for Innovation (CI), the country’s main opposition party. The court rulings also maintained the 30-year jail terms handed to 21 of its members.
The military coup and the consequences
Dissolving CI came less than two months after they were accused of staging a failed military coup following what they deemed as the ‘fraudulent’ nature of the November 2017 election. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema won his fifth seven-year term and his ruling party won 99 seats while the CI won the remaining seat. CI’s failed military coup led to mass arrests and detentions including the arrest of 30 foreign armed men at the junction of Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
The lawyer for CI members stated that the court ruling did not come as a surprise, claiming that “the Supreme Court received instructions from the President of the Republic to dissolve the CI.” CI’s Vice Secretary-General, Carmelo Abeso, agrees, adding that “no one on the [Supreme] Court is able to contradict President Teodoro Obiang’s demands, which was clearly to ask the Judiciary to put an end to the CI.”
The Supreme Court decision comes three months after the public prosecutor announced his intention to seek the death penalty for the 147 activists who participated in the attempted coup. The CI activists are charged with “rebellion, attacks against authority, public disorder and serious injury and damage.”
Reports of human rights abuses
Since staging a bloody coup himself against his uncle in 1979, Nguema’s government has become synonymous with human rights abuses. After the wave of arrests began in January, lawyers representing CI members say that at least 30 activists cannot stand trial because they have been “tortured” while in detention at the police headquarter, nicknamed “Guantanamo,” in Malabo, the capital city. Ernesto Obama Ondo claimed to have received 150 lashes every day on his buttocks while Mireille Buila Euka received 100 lashes on her hands and feet. In another instance, Santiago Ebee Ela, a 41-year-old activist, succumbed to his injuries sustained during torture at the headquarters this April.
The mounting international and domestic pressure is forcing the government to respond to the allegations of human rights abuses. The government assured its citizens that they will investigate the torture allegations but Amnesty International says no such probe has begun. Miguel Oyono Ndong Mifumu, Equatorial Guinea’s Ambassador to France, dismissed the allegations of torture in an interview with AFP, claiming that the term torture is only being used to destroy the reputation of the government. He added that the arrest of the opposition members should not be interpreted as an attack on the opposition party but rather consequences for staging the military coup and attacking police officers.
Nguema attacked the international human rights organizations, arguing for national human rights institutions to replace them across Africa. The President believes that these international organizations are aimed “at destroying the African States like Equatorial Guinea.” This proposal is absurd since most African countries already have national human rights institutions that maintain legitimacy and credibility.
In addition to attacking international organizations, Nguema requested the assistance of the French government with the investigation, since his government suspects that the coup was planned and financed in France.
The way forward
As stated earlier, Nguema’s government has been synonymous with human rights abuse. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International frequently document the abuse noting that the government has gone against the national anti-torture decree signed in 2006. The executive director of EG Justice contends that “President Obiang goes to great lengths to try to win acceptance on the international stage, including making human rights commitments that he never keeps.”
Both the United Nations and African Union have failed to intervene on the behalf of the Equatoguineans, despite many calls from local and international organizations. Their lack of action and legitimization of his fraudulent elections only allows the perpetuation of human rights abuse. Nguema most likely discerns that these principles of these international institutions will not lead to any serious threat to his hold on power. This is especially that case for the African Union since the oil-rich African nation regularly makes major contributions to the organization which aims to lessen its dependency on foreign donors.
With Equatoguineans powerless to create change from within and the international institutions complacent with human rights abuse, Nguema’s dictatorial government will continue to commit human rights abuse.