Scores of members of the Bubi ethnic minority were arrested; many appeared to be prisoners of conscience. Fifteen were sentenced to death and some 70 others to between six and 26 years' imprisonment after grossly unfair trials. Peaceful political opponents of the government were detained without charge or trial and at least three were sentenced to prison terms. There were many reports of torture and ill-treatment. Prison conditions were harsh.

In April the UN Commission on Human Rights examined the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Equatorial Guinea who had visited the country one month earlier. The Commission called on the government to implement the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, including those designed to put an end to arbitrary arrests and torture.

In January a group of Bubis, members of the indigenous ethnic group of Bioko Island, launched several attacks on military barracks in which three soldiers and several civilians were killed.

In a series of reprisal attacks on Bubi villages, hundreds of people were detained by the security forces and tortured (see below). Many appeared to be detained solely on account of their ethnic origin and appeared to be prisoners of conscience.

In May more than 110 people accused of involvement in the attacks on the barracks were tried in a five-day summary military trial that fell far short of international standards for fair trial. Fifteen people were sentenced to death, four in absentia, and some 70 others received sentences ranging from six to 26 years' imprisonment. The others were acquitted. In September President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo commuted the 15 death sentences to life imprisonment.

Prisoner of conscience José Oló Obono, a lawyer who publicly denounced during the May trial the torture of detainees, was arrested at home in July. In September he was sentenced to five months' imprisonment for insulting the government, despite the fact that the prosecutor had withdrawn the accusations because of lack of evidence. José Oló Obono appeared to have been convicted solely because of his stance during the May trial.

Peaceful political opponents of the government were detained for short periods and tortured or ill-treated, apparently in order to force them to pay heavy fines or to join the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial, Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea. Most appeared to be prisoners of conscience.

Two members of the Fuerza Demócrata Republicana, Republican Democratic Force, an opposition party which had not been legalized, continued to be held at the end of the year. They appeared to be prisoners of conscience. In August Felipe Ondó Obiang and Guillermo Nguema Ela were sentenced to two years and six months' imprisonment on charges such as making false accusations against the government. Both had been arrested in Gabon in November 1997 and transferred the same day to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, in President Obiang's presidential plane (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Many of the Bubis arrested after the attack on the military barracks were tortured in order to extract confessions. According to reports, some were forced to make statements while they were suspended between two tables with a metal bar between their bent elbows and knees. Others were interrogated while they were hung from the ceiling with their hands and feet bound together. Some were also tortured at the time of their arrest in reprisal for the attacks. Many were beaten with rifles, kicked and punched and some had part of their ears severed with razor blades and bayonets. Bubi women were also publicly humiliated in the courtyard of the police station in Malabo. Some were forced to swim naked in the mud in front of other detainees and others were sexually abused. At least six detainees died reportedly after torture.

The eleven prisoners under sentence of death who were in custody were kept in appalling conditions. They were not allowed to speak to anyone and could only leave their cells for a few minutes each day. For weeks they were in serious danger of dehydration and starvation as they were not allowed to receive food from their family and prison food was inadequate. On the day they were sentenced, a firing squad was already waiting to shoot them on a beach near the prison and their graves had been prepared. At the very last minute, the President suspended the executions. After the commutation of their death sentences, they continued to be held in incommunicado detention in harsh conditions.

Several other detainees were suffering ill health as a result of harsh prison conditions. In July Martin Puye, one of the leaders of the Movimiento para la Auto-determinación de la Isla de Bioko, Movement of the Self-determination of Bioko Island, died as a result of inadequate medical care. The prison authorities were reportedly reluctant to allow other detainees to be treated in hospital.

In May an Amnesty International delegation observed the trial of those alleged to have attacked the military bases. The delegation concluded that the trial did not meet international standards for fair trial. Amnesty International appealed for the commutation of the death sentences and called on the authorities to make immediate and substantial improvements to the conditions in which all the prisoners were being held. The organization urged the authorities to ensure detainees had enough food and water and access to professional medical treatment when needed.

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