Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On April 3, Santiago Ebee Ela, 41, member of the outlawed opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI), died at Malabo Central Police Station, reportedly because of “cruel torture.” Government authorities did not confirm the death, nor did state media report it. CI alleged that Ebee Ela was arrested at home on the night of January 2 and was one of more than 200 party activists authorities detained since December 2017 as part of a crackdown following the mid-November 2017 elections. The majority of the CI members were released quickly. The final 36 received a pardon on October 10 and were released that month. Judge Jose Esono Ndong Bidang died in a police station in Malabo on July 23 after he was denied medical attention in police custody.
There were reports of at least two disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Foreign press reported that Equatoguinean-Italian citizen Fulgencio Obiang Esono and Equatoguinean citizen (and Spanish resident) Francisco Micha Obama disappeared from Togo. Reports suggest that the government may have ordered their rendition and that both were later brought to Malabo’s infamous “Black Beach” prison.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that both police and military personnel in Malabo and in Bata used excessive force during traffic stops, house-to-house searches, and interrogations, sometimes including sexual assault, robbery, and extortion. Police also tortured opposition members, according to opposition leaders.
On January 4, approximately 150 members of the CI political party were arrested and detained in both Malabo and Bata without notification of a crime committed. CI leaders asserted they were tortured by soldiers and held for days without access to food and water (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). On October 10, the president pardoned 169 prisoners, including the 36 members of the CI party who were still in prison. These were among the first prisoners released by October 22.
Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions.
Authorities routinely harassed, intimidated, arbitrarily arrested, detained, and deported foreigners–primarily African immigrants–without due process (see section 2.d.).
Military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, and beat women, including at checkpoints. Senior government officials took no steps to address such violence and were themselves sometimes implicated in the violence.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were harsh and life threatening due to abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: In 2016 there were approximately 475 adult male inmates and 25 adult female inmates in police station jails; no data was available on the number of inmates in prisons. There was no information available on the number of juvenile detainees.
Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable.
Men, women, and minors had separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms but shared a common area for meals. Pretrial and convicted prisoners were held separately, although they shared a common area.
Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings.
Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees shared one toilet facility that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. Diseases including malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS were serious problems. Authorities sporadically provided a limited number of prisoners and detainees with medical care as well as basic meals, but food was generally insufficient and of poor quality. Ventilation and lighting was not always adequate, and rodent infestations were common. Jails did not provide food to detainees, but authorities generally allowed families and friends to deliver meals twice daily, although police did not always pass on the food to detainees. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees and to provide them with food.
In addition, the Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons for civilians on military installations, with military personnel handling security around the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within the prisons. There was little information on conditions in those prisons.
Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors and religious observance were restricted for political prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: There was no independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers. The government allowed UNICEF to visit youth rehabilitation centers in Centro Sur and Riaba but did not permit monitoring by media or local human rights groups.
Improvements: On July 27, the government inaugurated a new, modern maximum-security correctional facility located in Oveng Asem, on the mainland, with a capacity for more than 500 prisoners.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government rarely observed these requirements. Authorities held detainees incommunicado, denied them access to lawyers, and jailed them for long periods without charge, beyond the 72 hours allowed by law.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The vice president asserts overall control over the security forces. Police generally are responsible for maintaining law and order in the cities, while gendarmes are responsible for security outside cities and for special events. Both entities report to the minister of national security. Military personnel, who report to the minister of defense, also fulfill police functions in border areas, sensitive sites, and high-traffic areas. Additional police elements are in the Ministries of Interior (border and traffic police), Finance (customs police), and Justice (investigative/prosecuting police). Presidential security officials also exercise police functions at or near presidential facilities. The military often carried out police functions and, in some cases, mixed units of police and military operated together.
Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Police, gendarmes, and military personnel were poorly trained, ineffective, and corrupt. Impunity was a problem. Security force members, who often were inebriated, extorted money from citizens and foreigners at police checkpoints and during routine traffic stops. The government did not maintain effective internal or external mechanisms to investigate and punish security force abuses.
No government body examines security force killings to evaluate whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. Nevertheless, in some high-profile cases, prosecutors and the judiciary performed show trials to exonerate the accused.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The constitution requires arrest warrants unless a crime is in progress or in cases that affect national security. Members of the security forces frequently arrested persons in violation of the warrant requirement. A detainee has the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but determination of the legality of detention often took longer, sometimes several months. NGOs indicated the majority of detainees were not charged and that judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the legal time limit of 36 hours.
Some foreigners complained of detention and deportation without prior notification of the charges against them. Courts rarely approved bail. The bar association supplied public defenders to those who could not afford private counsel but only at the time they were charged. Authorities occasionally denied access to lawyers, particularly to political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, businesspersons, and others. Many detainees complained that bribes had to be paid to obtain release.
Police detained foreigners and took them into custody even when they provided proper documentation. Police raided immigrant communities. Reliable sources reported that police abused, extorted, or detained legal and irregular immigrants during raids. Diplomatic representatives in the country criticized the government for the harassment, abuse, extortion, and detention of foreign nationals and for not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner, making foreign nationals vulnerable to such abuse.
There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrest. Professor Julian Abaga Ncogo was detained in December 2017, allegedly for discussing what he perceived as an untenable political, economic, and social situation in the country. Somehow, the message got to some authorities who had him arrested. He was released in July, just before the National Political Dialogue.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem and was often politically motivated. Inefficient judicial procedures, corruption, lack of monitoring, and inadequate staffing contributed to the problem.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees have the right to challenge their detention and obtain release, although there is no provision for compensation if a detainee is found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, authorities did not respect this right, and detainees could not challenge the validity of the charges against them in practice. The 150 CI party members arrested in early January were detained for a month without access to lawyers and were only allowed representation after their convictions.
The constitution does not provide for an independent judiciary. Instead, the president is designated the “first magistrate of the nation” and chair of the Judicial Council responsible for appointing judges and magistrates.
Members of the government often influenced judges in sensitive cases. Judges sometimes decided cases on political grounds; others sought bribes. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the parliament, the Constitutional Court, or the president as first magistrate of the nation for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes.
The military justice system, based entirely on the system in effect in Spain when the country gained its independence in 1968, provided defendants with fewer procedural safeguards than the criminal court system. The code of military justice states that a military tribunal should judge any civilian or member of the military who disobeys a military authority or who is accused of committing a crime that is considered a “crime against the state.” A defendant in the military justice system may be tried in absentia, and the defense does not have the right to cross-examine an accuser. Such proceedings were not public, and defendants had no right of appeal to a higher court.
In rural areas tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts. Traditional courts conducted cases according to customary law that does not afford the same rights and privileges as the formal system. Persons dissatisfied with traditional judgments could appeal to the civil court system.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary generally did not enforce this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but the courts did not respect these rights. Defendants have the right to a public trial without undue delay, and most trials for ordinary crimes were public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials but unless they could afford private counsel rarely were able to consult promptly with attorneys. A defendant unable to afford a lawyer is entitled to request a government-appointed lawyer but only after first appearing in court, which generally did not occur within the mandated 72 hours. The law provides for defendants to confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence but courts seldom enforced this right. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law extends these rights equally to all citizens, but authorities did not respect the law.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number. They were held at Black Beach prison where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys for several months.
On March 8, political activist and cartoonist Ramon Nse Esono Ebale was released from prison after being acquitted for counterfeiting and money laundering, crimes that he was charged with in December 2017 due to false testimony by a police officer, the state’s main witness.
After the early January arrest of 150 members of the opposition CI party, on February 23, the High Court in Mongomo convicted and sentenced 31 CI members to 41 years in prison for sedition, undermining authority, damaging government property, and physical injury. The court also ordered the dissolution of the CI political party and imposed a fine of 138 million CFA francs ($235,000). CI’s Jesus Mitogo Oyono Andeme, the only opposition party member elected to the legislature in the November 2017 elections, was among those convicted. All 31 were released on October 22 as part of the amnesty ordered by the president on October 10.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Courts ruled on civil cases submitted to them, some of which involved human rights complaints. Civil matters were often settled out of court, and in some cases tribal elders adjudicated local disputes.
The government sometimes failed, for political reasons, to comply with domestic court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government often did not respect these prohibitions. Search warrants are required unless a crime is in progress or for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others; they confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Many break-ins were attributed to military and police personnel. In 2017 a Chinese citizen was killed by a group attempting to rob his house. One of the perpetrators dropped his identity card as he fled the scene, which showed he was a member of the military. In prior years, military members had been killed while they attempted break-ins.
Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. The government blocked employment of known members of opposition parties. Members of civil society have reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.