a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Throughout the year, there were anecdotal accounts of deaths in prison due to injuries inflicted by prison staff; no remedial action was taken.
In August, several individuals died after arrest and detention during police action Operacion Limpieza (Operation Clean-Up), allegedly from maltreatment or neglect in police custody.
Also in August, a prisoner from the 2017 coup attempt against President Obiang died while in custody. Activist groups claim his death was because of government mistreatment. Members of the political opposition claimed a second prisoner in the same prison died from maltreatment during the same period.
In September, political movement Citizens for Innovation (CI) claimed police killed nine of their members during a raid on CI’s headquarters.
No specific office investigates the legality of security force killings.
In September, authorities arrested numerous activists and civil society members without appropriately registering them in pretrial detention, during and after the government attack on the CI headquarters.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were credible reports that government officials employed them. Police tortured activists and members of opposition parties, according to political opposition leaders and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings and torture.
Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions. Local civil society organizations claimed security forces tortured detainees in every prison in the country, including Black Beach prison in Malabo and in several Ministry of Interior locations, with increasing prisoner transfers between Malabo and prisons on the mainland to avoid domestic and international scrutiny.
In July, officials claiming to be from the Ministry of Interior and Local Corporations arrested and detained a representative of a local NGO. The representative appeared at a subsequent meeting with foreign diplomats with open facial wounds and body bruises, injuries he claimed he received from those Ministry of Interior officials.
In September, authorities detained popular rapper and activist Leoncio Pisco Eko, known as “Adjoguening.” Later that month, a WhatsApp audio recording circulated of him allegedly being tortured. The government denied the voice of the victim on the recording was Adjoguening. In October, authorities released Adjoguening, and he posted a video claiming he had experienced torture, including being stripped naked and beaten.
During the September police raid on CI headquarters, leader Gabriel Nze Obiang was arrested, stripped, and made to walk through a crowd in his underwear.
In the aftermath of the September government assault on CI’s headquarters, members of CI accused the government of transferring CI members to Oveng Asem prison on the mainland to avoid the intense international attention the incident had attracted. In a WhatsApp audio circulated by opposition groups and human rights organizations containing information consistent with other reports, a woman accused the government of mistreating the prisoners, including denying food, water, and medical treatment. In October, when authorities released some CI members, they appeared in a video accusing police of mistreatment. Allegations included confiscated belongings and forced disavowals of political affiliation with CI. Released members alleged individuals who remained in custody had been denied medical treatment for their wounds sustained during the September raid.
Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, due to corruption, poor training, and the ability of senior government officials to order extrajudicial acts. An inspector general’s office within the Ministry of National Security investigates abuses within the ministry. Early in the year, gendarmes and police received training from the United Nations and a local NGO on human rights.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to local observers, conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were generally harsh and occasionally life threatening due to severe physical and emotional abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, limited oversight, and lack of medical care.
Abusive Physical Conditions: Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees commonly shared one toilet that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. In some cases, prisoners were reportedly left in solitary confinement for extended periods. Diseases such as COVID-19, malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV and AIDS were serious problems. In September, there were reports of a tuberculosis outbreak in one of the prisons in the continental region. In December, authorities reported a cholera outbreak in Black Beach prison. Prison authorities sporadically provided a limited number of prisoners and detainees with basic meals, but food was generally insufficient and of poor quality. 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 the detainees. Ventilation and lighting were not always adequate, and rodent infestations were common. An NGO leader reported conditions and prisoner treatment in prisons on the mainland was much worse than in Black Beach prison in Malabo.
The Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons on military installations, with military personnel handling security outside the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within them.
Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable. In August, a local NGO reported deaths of Operacion Limpieza detainees, including multiple children, because of mistreatment and abusive physical conditions in jails. A September WhatsApp audio accused the government of causing frequent prison deaths from hunger and illness at the Oveng Asem prison on the mainland.
Administration: Authorities did not regularly investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees. Since 2020, authorities restricted visitation rights for family members and for legal counsel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to advocacy organizations, health concerns or outbreaks were used as pretexts to deny access to certain prisoners. Civil society organizations that received permission from the Ministry of Justice, Penitentiary Institutions, and Religion to visit prisoners were often refused entry by Ministry of National Security officials staffing the prisons.
Independent Monitoring: There was no independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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. The government rarely observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law 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, and there were credible reports that in cases where no crime had been committed individuals were detained at the order of a senior executive branch official. A detainee has the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but this determination often took longer, sometimes several months. NGOs indicated most detainees were not charged and judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the 72-hour limit.
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 in the case of political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition and individuals detained in connection with civil society groups or political opposition movements were frequently held incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrests. The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, activists, and others. Many detainees complained bribes had to be paid to obtain release.
Police detained foreign nationals and took them into custody even when they provided proper documentation. Police raided immigrant communities. Reliable sources reported police abused, extorted, or detained legal and irregular immigrants during raids. Diplomatic representatives in the country noted the government made foreign nationals vulnerable to abuse through harassment, abuse, extortion, detention, and not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner.
In May, the government began Operacion Limpieza allegedly in response to increased street violence from a gang armed with machetes called 8Machete. Police arrested more than 450 youths. According to civil society groups, many of the youths were unaffiliated with the gang and had committed no crime. As of November, some of the individuals detained in the initial roundup were still being held in pretrial detention. Authorities did not charge those released with any crime. When questioned, a high-level Ministry of Justice official stated it was possible police had “taken things too far.”
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. Occasionally, pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the crime.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law does not provide for an independent judiciary, and the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. 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 and magistrates sometimes decided cases on political grounds, and many were members of the ruling party; others sought bribes. Impunity for politically motivated abuses was a problem, and human rights activists and opposition members had little legal recourse to protest such abuses. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the legislature, the Constitutional Court, or the president in his executive role for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes, circumventing appropriate legal processes altogether. Credible reports alleged judges decided in favor of plaintiffs in cases against international companies in return for a percentage of damages awarded. There were reports of individuals kept in custody after completion of their sentences, and local lawyers asserted these cases represented interference from the highest level of the executive branch in judicial matters, and few if any judges would contradict an order from the executive branch.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trail, but the judiciary generally did not enforce this right. Courts generally did not respect the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, the right to free interpretation, or the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Unless defendants could afford private counsel, they were rarely able to consult promptly with attorneys. Courts seldom respected the right to confront and question witnesses and to present one’s own witnesses and evidence. Authorities did not respect the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt or the right to appeal.
The military justice system 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 have no right of appeal to a higher court.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were numerous reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number or length of detention and the government denied it held any political prisoners. Political prisoners were often held at Oveng Asem, where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys or human rights or humanitarian organizations for months at a time, and in the Ministry of Interior and Local Corporations – known in the country as Guantanamo – where sensitive political detainees were often kept for the first several days of their detention. There was little to no information regarding conditions at Guantanamo. Authorities also restricted religious observances for political prisoners.
Charges of terrorism, threatening the president or vice president, contributing to social instability, and inciting unrest were often used as pretexts to detain members of civil society or opposition groups.
In September, authorities detained without cause at least five members of the civil society platform Somos + (We are More), as were four activists who primarily operated on WhatsApp. Authorities arrested four members of unregistered opposition political parties after they provided testimony at the office of the fiscal general, the government’s chief prosecutor.
In the aftermath of the September raid on CI headquarters, there were reports political detainees were transferred to the mainland instead of remaining in Black Beach Prison because there were fewer opposition or human rights observers available on the mainland.
Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: A local activist reported the government surveilled activists abroad to disrupt their travel and dissuade them from criticizing the government.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts or other administrative mechanisms, such as filing petitions with the House of Representatives’ Commission on Human Rights.
The government sometimes failed to comply with court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse court decisions to the ombudsperson or the legislature.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The government routinely seized valuable land for governmental development or the personal benefit of government officials, with a systemic failure to provide proportionate and timely restitution or compensation for governmental takings of private property.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
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, but security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others. They also confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Military and police personnel committed many break-ins.
Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. Members of civil society and opposition parties reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services. There were extensive reports of informer systems, including within families, neighborhood communities, and political opposition groups, and at demonstrations. The ruling party rewarded individuals with promotion within the party if they reported derogatory information to the Ministry of National Security. There were also reports from a local NGO authorities detained family members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals as proxies until the LGBTQI+ persons presented themselves to authorities.