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Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo may not be an obvious choice for our 2022 ‘Tyrant of the Year’, but he certainly wins awards for many aspects of his dictatorial reign. Gaining power before three of his fellow inductees on this list were even born, he’s now entered his sixth decade as the leader of Equatorial Guinea and is currently the longest serving president in the world.
“Anybody looking at Obiang’s 95% share of the recent national elections vote may think he’s an electoral powerhouse. However, with little political opposition and a heavily controlled press, it’s far from a free democratic choice for most,” says Francis Clarke, editorial assistant at Index on Censorship.
While elections are regular, the one held in November 2022 ‘returned’ Obiang to his sixth term in office. While opposition is nominally allowed alongside a multi-party system, he has near total control of the West African nation. Before the 2017 legislative election, it was reported that opposition party supporters were arrested, polling stations closed earlier than advertised and people were limited from reaching distant polling stations.
In September, a human rights campaigner was arrested by police and held for at least 18 days for assisting opposition activists in the country. Anacleto Micha Nlang, co-founder of the banned rights group Guinea is Also Ours, was delivering food to families held under siege in the offices of the outlawed Citizens for Innovation (CI) party. In 2021, an exiled investigative journalist was the subject of threats following the publication of an article alleging corruption at the highest level in his home country.
An oil-rich state, the elite of the country are thought to have plundered the proceeds from this natural resource. In 2017 Obiang’s eldest son, vice-president of the country at the time, was convicted of embezzling millions of dollars from his government and laundering the money through France. He was handed a three-year suspended prison sentence and a $35 million fine.
“With the President’s reign likely to continue, and then passed on to his son, there is currently no sign of a name other than Obiang to be installed as the leader of the nation,” says Clarke.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116347″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Delfin Mocache Massoko, an investigative journalist from Equatorial Guinea, has been the subject of threats following the publication of an article alleging corruption at the highest level in his home country.
Mocache Mossako is the founder of Diario Rombe, a website dedicated to Equatoguinean affairs based in Spain, where he has refugee status. He was one of the authors of a cross-border investigation published in January by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
According to the investigation, Gabriel Obiang, minister of mines and hydrocarbons and son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, diverted funds into offshore companies controlled by his associates.
A Twitter campaign launched by South Africa-based lawyer NJ Ayuk (who has close ties to the Obiang family) accused Mocache Massoko of spreading misinformation. One tweet read: “the lies of Delfín Mocache … have generated an incalculable amount of damage to many people, businesses and Africans.”
In another tweet, Ayuk said: “He is scared because we are going to catch him… those responsible for his lucrative lies. I’m looking forward to questioning these money-hungry charlatans. You will have a lot of fun. We will imprison him.”
At present, there is no suggestion that Ayuk is threatening anything beyond lawful investigation and prosecution, but there is a risk that his words will be misinterpreted in the environment of a country where dissidents are forced into exile.
Mocache Massoko told Index: “There is a history of citizens of Equatorial Guinea critical of the country’s political system being abducted abroad and clandestinely transferred to African prisons. In the past there have been cases of torture against dissidents, activists, and human rights defenders.”
This week, a South African court ordered Ayuk and his company, Centurion Law Group, to cease its campaign against Mocache Mossako and OCCRP and issue apologies. However, they responded today by issuing further threats to issue “multiple legal claims in various jurisdictions.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”540″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_images_carousel images=”102246,102245,102244″ img_size=”full” speed=”3000″ autoplay=”yes”][vc_column_text]Ramón Nse Esono Ebale draws out of a desire to create a world that is different from the one he can see with his eyes. It was that desire that led to his arrest and detention in September 2017.
Ebale’s cartoons take aim at Teodoro Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s long-time dictator, who has been in power since 1979, just two years after Ebale was born. Drawing under the pseudonym Jamon y Queso, his cartoons lambast Obiang for his corruption and the absurdities of his rule.
Ebale left the country in 2011 after he received threats from government supporters and has been living in Paraguay for the past six years. While there, Ebale co-authored a graphic novel called La pesadilla de Obi. In the novel, president Obiang wakes up one morning as an unemployed husband living in the slums of Malabo. The novel was censored in EG and had to be smuggled into the country.
When Ebale returned to renew his passport, which the embassy in Paraguay couldn’t do, in order to move to El Salvador to be with his family. He was arrested and charged with money laundering and counterfeiting.
After his arrest, cartoonists and organisations from around the world launched a campaign — #FreeNseRamon — calling for Obiang to free him. Ebale was awarded Courage in Cartooning Award by Cartoonists Rights Network International to bring attention to his case.
He was finally released in March 2018 after an officer confessed to arresting Ebale on false charges after he was told to by his superiors.
Ebale plans to continue with his criticism of both the government and president Obiang because although he is free, things haven’t changed in EG.
Ebale shared his thoughts during an email exchanged with Index on Censorship’s Sandra Osei-Frimpong.
Index: What did you fear will happen when you went back to Equatorial Guinea?
Ebale: Because of the reputation of the regime and president controlling EG, no one believed my trip will be peaceful. But I did not fear anything and was always prudent. My family was afraid but I don’t think I allowed them to see my fear.
Index: Did you have a contingency plan in place before you left Paraguay?
Ebale: My drawings were my protection. They tell my story and are evidence of what I’ve been through. One cannot stop it if someone plans to hurt them so my only plan was to have my drawings speak for me.
Index: How were you treated in prison?
Ebale: They tried to suppress the campaign asking for my freedom. I was treated better than others in prison because my family was working to set me free and there was also external pressure.
Index: What are your plans now that you’ve left EG again? Do you plan to continue with criticism of the government?
Ebale: My plans have not changed. I still love drawing. Just because I am free doesn’t mean the regime has ended so my plan has not changed. You get a break when you die so living is the only thing that you have.
Index: What effect if any do you think your cartoons and criticism has had on the situation in EG especially since it is censored there?
Ebale: By censuring me, they censure people that are discovering new things through social media. I use social media to spread my passion for drawing and my crazy political ideas. The impact was enormous because it gave us a new tool to use in our fight to democratise the country: caricatures. It continues on from the drawings.
Index: What effects do you think your cartoons has had on people/countries outside of EG?
Ebale: Outside of my country my drawings are competing honourably with other African artists in countries and situations that are possibly worse than mine. The facts that my drawings have fans that live far from my country shows that my drawings are having a positive effect.
Index: What changes do you hope to see in EG?
Ebale: I want my grandchildren to be able to peacefully live with me in Mikomeseng. I want us to be able to cross the border without military barrier to reach Bitam. This is not much to ask for but I wish for it.
Index: Do you plan on ever returning to EG?
Ebale: Yes. It is my home.
Index: The main reason why you went back to EG was to get a passport so you can be with your family in El Salvador. What have you told your son about EG? Do you think you will you ever take him there?
Ebale: My son was born in EG. when they detained me he was there to visit and support me. He knows everything and I did not have to explain it to him because he was in Eg with me the whole time. My daughter on the other hand I’ve had to explain things to although she is too young to understand everything because she was not there and has never lived in EG.
Index: What motivates you to create?
Ebale: I am motivated by the belief that I can create a world different from the one I see with my eyes or recreate it. When you go to sleep and dream, the dreams are like drawings and if you wouldn’t be able to draw it all if you tried. Sleeping and being awake are different because being awake allows you to see how those around you live and move. You should be motivated by what you see. Dreaming is like drawing without your hands.
Index:When did you start drawing political cartoons?
Ebale: I started with the newspaper La Verdad del CPDS.
Index:Is there a work or group of works that you are proudest of?
Ebale: Yes: 218 TRILOGY.. Next
Index currently runs workshops in the UK, publishes case studies about artistic censorship, and has produced guidance for artists on laws related to artistic freedom in England and Wales.
Learn more about our work defending artistic freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe to the Index newsletter” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]To find out more about Index on Censorship and our work protecting free expression, join our mailing list to receive our weekly newsletter, monthly events email and periodic updates about our projects and campaigns. See a sample of what you can expect here.
Nairobi, 29 May 2018 — The Equatorial Guinean artist Ramón Esono Ebalé left the country on 28 May 2018 after being imprisoned for six months on apparently false charges and then waiting three months for travel documents, 13 rights organisations said today.
“Ramón Esono Ebalé’s nine-month saga shows how many tools the Equatorial Guinean government has at its disposal to silence critics,” said Sarah Saadoun, of Human Rights Watch. “But it also is a powerful example of how solidarity and activism can confront abuses.”
Esono Ebalé, a prominent artist and cartoonist often critical of the government, who travelled to Equatorial Guinea to request a passport, was arrested on 16 September 2017 in Malabo, the capital, and charged almost three months later with counterfeiting around US$1,800 worth of the local currency. The line of questioning during the interrogation and a lack of evidence raised serious concerns that the allegations were politically motivated. These concerns were bolstered during the trial when the government’s sole witness admitted on the stand that he was just following his bosses’ orders.
The judge dismissed the case on February 27, and Esono Ebalé was freed, but he remained effectively trapped in the country because he lacked the proper travel documents. He was finally issued a passport on 23 May and left the country five days later.
Throughout this ordeal, dozens of cartoonists’ rights and human rights organisations and advocates worked to publicise the case internationally, including with the United Nations and global policymakers. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights wrote a letter of appeal to the Equatorial Guinean government, and US Senator Richard Durbin remained actively engaged with the case.
“We, the #FreeNseRamon coalition, hundreds of artists, journalists, activists, rights defenders and supporters from around the world, celebrate that Ramón will finally be able to see his loved ones after an ordeal that lasted almost nine months,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, a group that monitors the government’s human rights record. “Many critical voices remain silenced and imprisoned in Equatorial Guinea, but today, we rejoice that one of those talented activists is free and can go back to drawing truth to power.”
The human rights groups and advocates are APIM, Arterial Network, Committee to Protect Journalists, CRNI, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jonathan Price, Paul Mason, International Media Defence Panel, Doughty Street Chambers, EG Justice, FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, FREEMUSE, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, PEN International, and Reporters without Borders.
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on business and human rights, please visit:
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Equatorial Guinea, please visit:
For more information, please contact:
In Chapel Hill, for EG Justice, Tutu Alicante (Spanish, English, French): +1-615-479-0207 (mobile); or [email protected]. Twitter: @TutuAlicante
In New York, for Human Rights Watch, Sarah Saadoun (English): +1-917-502-6694 (mobile); or [email protected]. Twitter: @sarah_saadoun
In New York, for Committee to Protect Journalists, Angela Quintal (English): +212-300-9004 (office); or [email protected]. Twitter: @angelaquintal[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1527671995212-60b2f95f-3eaa-10″ taxonomies=”19377″][/vc_column][/vc_row]