Freedom of the Press - Equatorial Guinea (2006)

Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 27
Political Influences: 34
Economic Pressures: 27
Total Score: 88

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 45
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (predominant)
Ethnic Groups: Bioko [primarily Bubi, some Fernandinos], Rio Muni [primarily Fang], other
Capital: Malabo

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed through the constitution, but these rights are widely restricted in practice. The 1992 Press Law gives the government unusually extensive authority to restrict press activities through official prepublication censorship. All domestic journalists are required to register with the Ministry of Information, and equally strict accreditation procedures are in place for foreign correspondents.

As in previous years, journalists were subject to systematic harassment, though in an improvement from last year, no journalists were deported in 2005. Mild criticism of infrastructure and public institutions is allowed, but nothing disparaging about the president or security forces is tolerated. If deemed to be undeserved, such criticisms carry harsh penalties, including arbitrary detention and censorship. In April, a presidential spokesman threatened Pablo Gracia Saez, a Bata-based editor for the pan-African news agency Afrol News, accusing the journalist of "waging a campaign against Equatorial Guinea," and warning of severe reprisals. At year's end, no official action had been taken against Saez. In June, police seized 200 copies of La Verdad, a small newspaper run by the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy party. La Verdad has functioned as one of the rare alternative voices in a tightly controlled media environment, and the seizure is believed to be linked to the paper's frequent criticisms of politicians.

Coupled with a reputation for repeatedly violating human rights, Equatorial Guinea is one of the few African countries to have virtually no independent media. Given the high level of poverty and illiteracy throughout the country, the most influential form of media is radio, but all domestic radio and television stations are owned directly by the government or by the president's family. Applications to open private radio stations have been pending for several years but have thus far not been approved. One opposition newspaper continued to appear regularly throughout the year but often practiced self-censorship because of government intimidation. A dozen other private newspapers are licensed to publish but function primarily as opposition mouthpieces and are therefore tied to the political fortunes of their sponsors. Foreign publications have become more widely available, but those that offend the government are banned without explanation. Foreign broadcasts are allowed, and the BBC, Radio France Internationale, and Radio Exterior (the international shortwave service from Spain) can all be heard. Through its interviews with opposition politicians, Radio Exterior operates as the only means by which opposition voices can reach rural populations. Internet access is limited to less than 0.5 percent of the population by the level of poverty in Equatorial Guinea but is not directly restricted by the government. Nonetheless, government operatives are believed to monitor citizens' e-mail and internet use.

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