Ramón Nse Esono Ebale: Drawing to create change in Equatorial Guinea

[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

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Index encourages an environment in which artists and arts organisations can challenge the status quo, speak out on sensitive issues and tackle taboos.

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.

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Equatorial Guinea: Artist Ramón Esono Ebalé leaves country after prison release


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]

Equatorial Guinea: Artist freed from prison

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”96393″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]An Equatorial Guinean court on March 7, 2018 released an artist imprisoned on dubious charges for nearly six months, 17 human rights groups said today. The prosecution dropped all charges against Ramón Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist whose work is often critical of the government, at his February 27 trial after the police officer who had accused him of counterfeiting $1,800 of local currency admitted making the accusation based on orders from his superiors.  

“It is a huge relief that the prosecution dropped its charges against Ramon, but they should never have been pressed in the first place,” said Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN International’s Writers-in-Prison Committee. “We urge the authorities to guarantee his safe return to his family, allow him to continue creating his hard-hitting cartoons, and ensure that Equatorial Guinea respects the right to freedom of expression.”

The global #FreeNseRamon coalition, consisting of hundreds of artists, activists, and organizations devoted to protecting artistic freedom, freedom of expression and other human rights, carried out a campaign to direct international attention to his situation.

“Ramon’s release from prison is a testament of the power of collective work of hundreds of artists, concerned citizens, and NGOs” said Tutu Alicante, director of EG Justice, which promotes human rights in Equatorial Guinea. “But we must not forget that dozens of government opponents who are not as fortunate fill Equatorial Guinea’s jails; thus, the fight against human rights violations and impunity must continue.”

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“Index on Censorship welcomes the news that Ramon has finally been released, after being acquitted of all charges. It took too long, and he should never have been jailed in the first place.” — Joy Hyvarinen head of advocacy

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Esono Ebalé, who lives outside of his native Equatorial Guinea, was arrested on September 16, 2017, while visiting the country to request a new passport. Police interrogated him about drawings critical of the government, said two Spanish friends who were arrested and interrogated alongside him and were later released.

But a news report broadcast on a government-owned television channel a few days after the arrest claimed that police had found 1 million Central African francs in the car Esono Ebalé was driving. On December 7, he was formally accused of counterfeiting. The charge sheet alleged that a police officer, acting on a tip, had asked him to exchange large bills and received counterfeit notes in return.  

“Equatorial Guinea’s government has a long record of harassing and persecuting its critics,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Ramon’s release is an important victory against repression.”

At the trial on February 27 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea’s capital, it became clear that the police officer who had made the accusations had no personal knowledge of Esono Ebalé’s involvement in the alleged crime, according to his lawyer and another person present at the trial. After offering details that conflicted with the official account, the officer admitted that he had acted on orders of his superiors, they said. The prosecution then withdrew the charges.

“We are delighted that Ramón was acquitted and is finally free,” said Angela Quintal, Africa Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists. “The fact that the state’s main witness recanted, underscores the point that authorities manufactured the charges in the first place. Ramon should never have spent a single day behind bars and we trust that he will not be subjected to any further reprisal.” 

The human rights groups are Arterial Network, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Asociación Profesional de Ilustradores de Madrid, Cartoonists Rights Network International, Cartooning for Peace, Committee to Protect Journalists, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jonathan Price and Paul Mason, Doughty Street Chambers, UK, EG Justice, FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Freemuse, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, PEN America, PEN International, Reporters without Borders, Swiss Foundation Cartooning for Peace, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”2″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1520441327504-198d4f0a-a14a-10″ taxonomies=”19377″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Charges dropped against cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé


Caroonist Ramón Esono Ebalé

Caroonist Ramón Esono Ebalé (Photo: CRNI)

Index on Censorship welcomes the news that charges against cartoonist Nsé Ramón Esono Ebalé, who frequently uses his art to lampoon senior Equatorial Guinea government officials, have been dropped.

“This is wonderful news and we  urge the authorities in Equatorial Guinea to release Ramon without delay. The charges against him were clearly spurious and we call on the government of Equatorial Guinea to confirm that Ramon will be  free to travel,” said Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship said.

Esono Ebalé, who had been living abroad since 2010, has been held in prison in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea’s capital, since his arrest on September 16, 2017. He was arrested while he was in the country to request a new passport.

Three days after Esono Ebalé’s arrest, the state-owned TV channel ran a report alleging that he had been arrested for counterfeiting and attempting to launder approximately US$1,800 of local currency found in the car he was driving.

Esono Ebalé was not formally charged until 82 days after his arrest. This prolonged period – during which the investigating judge did not respond to three pleadings or motions submitted by his lawyers – called into question the credibility of the evidence. It also appeared to violate Equatorial Guinean law, which mandates that a judge must charge suspects within 72 hours of arrest, unless the judge recognizes an exception.

The charge sheet alleged that an undercover agent, working on a tip, approached Esono Ebalé to provide change for a large bill and was given counterfeit money in return. The charge sheet also stated that the head of the National Police testified regarding receiving information about Esono Ebalé’s alleged involvement in counterfeiting money and that the false notes were presented to the judge. It included no information as to where the police found the money or other alleged members of the counterfeit ring. The judge refused bail and ordered Esono Ebalé to pay a 20 million CFA francs (US$36,000) assurance to satisfy any fines the court may levy on him.

Cartoonists are frequently targeted by authorities for their work. Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has had his works banned, been barred from international travel and frequently arrested for his work. Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivadi was arrested for sedition in 2012 for a series of cartoons that mocked the government, while Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat lives in exile after being brutally beaten by government forces.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”1″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1519753879317-fe1d51d9-7d5c-0″ taxonomies=”19377″][/vc_column][/vc_row]