Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president, including his son, the vice president, owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance, arrests, and threats.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.
The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely. During the legislative and municipal elections in 2017, the government censored all international channels.
The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel, which the government partially owned.
International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country. As most foreigners need visas to visit the country, the time-consuming nature of the process effectively dissuaded some journalists from travelling, although international media covered major events. In other cases, the government may have prevented reporters from obtaining visas.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.
On August 27, police in Bata arrested presenter Milanio Ncogo and reporter Ruben Dario Bacale, employees of Asonga TV, and held them without charge until September 8, when both were released from jail and fired from their jobs. The arrests were retaliation for an interview Bacale conducted with Nazario Oyono Kung, a judge suspended by the president of the Supreme Court.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. During the 2017 legislative and municipal elections, the government blocked all access to the internet for approximately 10 days.
Access to Facebook and opposition blogs Diario Rombe and Radio Macuto continued to be generally restricted.
Users attempting to access political opposition sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message that the websites did not exist. WhatsApp and the internet were the primary ways that the opposition expressed and disseminated their views.
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Faculty, students, and members of opposition political parties complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors practiced self-censorship. In December 2018 press reported the minister of education fired a teacher from the opposition CPDS, allegedly because he was promoting his political ideology in his classes. Opposition blogs alleged the teacher was fired because he criticized a rule requiring female students to cut their hair to a certain length.
Some cultural events required coordination with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, the Department of Culture and Tourism, or both. This was more common outside of the largest cities. The resulting bureaucratic delay was a disincentive for prospective organizers, who often did not know the criteria used for judging proposals or their chances for approval.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the constitution and law provide for these freedoms.
The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but regulatory provisions effectively undermined this right, and the government routinely restricted freedom of assembly. The government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings but requires prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied the permit requests. The government frequently dispersed peaceful, preapproved public gatherings if a participant asked a question that could be construed as criticism of the government or the PDGE.
On May 20, Minister of Interior Faustino Ndong Esono Ayang asked the country’s only LGBTI association to cancel its events in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. The minister eventually withdrew his request, but reportedly the governor of Bioko Island North Province did not allow a parade to continue as planned during a Pride Month activity on June 28.
During the 2017 legislative and municipal electoral campaign season, public gatherings were closely monitored and tightly controlled. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies. Authorities prohibited other political parties from campaigning in a location at the same time as the PDGE. The PDGE received preferential treatment. On election day security forces prevented voters from forming large groups (see section 3).
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. All political parties, labor unions, and other associations must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow.
Politically motivated crackdowns on civil society organizations remained a problem, including the temporary detention of civil society activists without charge. The government was slow to authorize NGOs, with the only LGBTI organization reportedly waiting for authorization after more than three years. The legally established period for government approval is two months.
The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. Only one labor organization was believed to be registered by the end of 2018 (see section 7.a.).
Despite laws that authorities stated were designed to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government prevented the registration of opposition parties. Although elected officials from the Citizens for Innovation (CI) opposition party were released from prison in October 2018 after a presidential pardon, they were not allowed to return to their positions in local and national offices because the government deregistered the party earlier in the year. Their attempts to reregister or create a new party met with bureaucratic delays that seemed intended to prevent registration.
A 1999 law on NGOs limits to approximately 53,000 CFA francs ($90) per year the amount of funding civil society organizations can receive from foreign sources. The government has also pressured NGOs, especially those focused on human rights, through both overt and covert means (see sections 1.d. and 5). For example, on July 5 the minister of the interior and local corporations published an April decree revoking the charter of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives in Equatorial Guinea (CEIDGE) because authorities accused it of undertaking political activities (see Section 5). CEIDGE was one of the few independent NGOs that denounced human rights abuses in the country.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government often restricted these rights. Multiple members of the opposition reported that the authorities delayed the renewal of their identity documents, effectively limiting their ability to travel within the country and abroad. Gabriel Nze Obiang of CI stated in December that after one and a half months there was no update on his documents renewal, and that his application was not listed in the system, although the regular period of time to receive a new document was approximately two weeks.
In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers and some engaged in petty extortion. Frequent roundups of foreign nationals that the government claimed were necessary to counter irregular immigration, delinquent activities, and coup attempts also occurred at roadblocks.
Foreign Travel: The government has been known to issue temporary travel prohibitions on senior government officials due to alleged national security concerns.
On March 15, authorities detained human rights defender Alfredo Okenve Ndo at the airport in Malabo, handcuffed him, put him on a military flight to his home in Bata, placed him under house arrest, confiscated his passport and cellular telephone, and temporarily banned him from travel outside the country. Authorities had banned him the same day from receiving the “Franco-German prize for human rights,” which had been announced in 2018.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government did not generally cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. UNHCR did not maintain an office in country.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.