Freedom in the World 2011 - Equatorial Guinea

Capital: Malabo
Population: 676,000

Political Rights Score: 7 *
Civil Liberties Score: 7 *
Status: Not Free


After winning reelection with 95.4 percent of the vote in late 2009, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo reappointed nearly all of his former cabinet ministers in January 2010, including members of his family. His son and favored successor, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who faced money-laundering allegations by a U.S. Senate subcommittee, was appointed vice president of the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea. Trials in connection with a 2009 coup attempt resulted in four executions that were decried by international human rights organizations. Meanwhile, UNESCO suspended plans to grant a prize sponsored by President Obiang after human rights groups lobbied against it.

Equatorial Guinea achieved independence from Spain in 1968. Current president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power in 1979 after deposing and executing his uncle, President Francisco Macías Nguema. International pressure forced Obiang to establish a multiparty system in 1992, though he and the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) retained power over the next two decades in a series of seriously flawed elections.

The government thwarted a 2004 coup attempt that reportedly aimed to install Severo Moto, an exiled opposition figure, as president. Among the accused coup plotters was former British commando Simon Mann, who was pardoned in 2009 and returned to the country as a presidential advisor in 2010.

Obiang dissolved the parliament in February 2008 and called legislative and municipal elections for May. A new coalition composed of the PDGE and nine smaller parties won a reported 100 percent of the vote in many districts, taking 99 out of 100 seats in the parliament amid allegations of widespread irregularities. The Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), the sole opposition party, was reduced from two seats to one.

In February 2009, a group of unidentified gunmen attacked the presidential palace in Malabo. The government blamed a Nigerian rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, for the attack, though the group rejected the accusation. Seven Nigerian suspects were convicted the following year on charges relating to the attack. In August 2010, four former military and government officials were executed within an hour of being sentenced to death by a military court for their involvement in the attack on the presidential palace. According to Amnesty International, they had been abducted from Benin, where they had been living as refugees, and were held incommunicado in Black Beach Prison and reportedly tortured before confessing to the attack.

Meanwhile, Obiang swept the November 2009 presidential election with a 95.4 percent of the vote, although as with past balloting, the election was widely regarded as rigged. The president's main opponent, CPDS leader Plácido Micó Abogo, was left with less than 4 percent. The new government appointed in January 2010 included nearly all of the previous cabinet members, and the creation of many new junior minister posts increased the total size of the cabinet by 50 percent. Obiang's son and favored successor, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, retained the agriculture and forests portfolio, was promoted to minister of state, and became vice president of the PDGE. After the changes, members of the president's family held 11 ministerial posts.

Equatorial Guinea's abundant oil revenues do not reach the majority of its citizens. According to the watchdog group Global Witness, 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. In 2010, Obiang hired a "reform advisor" and made a number of public pledges to increase social spending, protect human rights, and increase the transparency of the country's oil revenues; however, substantive reforms had not transpired by year's end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Equatorial Guinea is not an electoral democracy and has never held credible elections. The 2009 presidential election reportedly featured intimidation and harassment of the opposition by security forces and restrictions on foreign observers, among other irregularities. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who won a new seven-year term, marked his 31st year in power in 2010, making him sub-Saharan Africa's longest-serving ruler. The 100 members of the unicameral House of People's Representatives are elected to five-year terms but wield little power; all but one of the chamber's seats are held by the pro-presidential coalition. The few opposition parties, in particular the CPDS, are closely monitored by the government.

Equatorial Guinea is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. A clan network linked to the president undergirds the formal political structure and has allowed Obiang and members of his inner circle to amass huge personal fortunes stemming from the oil industry. In 2010, the government for the first time released oil revenue figures for 2007 ($4 billion) and 2008 ($5.8 billion) in a bid to join the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). Nevertheless, EITI ultimately rejected Equatorial Guinea because of a lack of consensus among its board members as to whether there were extenuating circumstances that warranted an extension to complete all requirements. In 2010, a U.S. Senate subcommittee implicated the president's eldest son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, as a principal suspect in its investigation of large-scale money laundering, alleging that he transferred $110 million in suspicious funds to U.S. banks between 2004 and 2008. Equatorial Guinea was ranked 168 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Although the constitution guarantees press freedom, the 1992 press law authorizes government censorship. A few private newspapers and underground pamphlets are published irregularly, but they face financial and political pressure. Libel remains a criminal offense, and all journalists are required to register with the government. The state holds a monopoly on broadcast media, with the exception of RTV-Asonga, a private radio and television outlet owned by the president's son. In February 2010, a journalist in Bata was arrested and held for three days after reporting on the discovery of seven bodies at a city dump. In April, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse and Africa No.1 radio was detained at Malabo International Airport, where he had planned to cover arrivals for a regional economic summit. Satellite television is increasingly popular, and Radio Exterior, Spain's international shortwave service, has a large audience in the country. The government reportedly does not restrict access to the Internet or monitor e-mail.

The constitution protects religious freedom, though in practice it is sometimes affected by the country's broader political repression. Official preference is given to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reform Church of Equatorial Guinea. Academic freedom is also politically constrained, and self-censorship among faculty is common.

Freedoms of assembly and association are severely restricted, and political gatherings must have official authorization to proceed. The few international nongovernmental organizations in the country promote social and economic improvements rather than political and civil rights. The constitution provides for the right to organize unions, but there are many legal barriers to collective bargaining. While it has ratified key International Labour Organization conventions, the government has refused to register the Equatorial Guinea Trade Union, whose members operate in secret. The country's only legal labor union is the Small Farmers' Syndicate.

The judiciary is not independent, and security forces generally act with impunity. Civil cases rarely go to trial, and military tribunals handle national security cases. Prison conditions are deplorable. Equatorial Guinea has been criticized internationally for holding detainees in secret, denying them access to lawyers, and jailing them for long periods without charge. UN investigators have also reported systematic torture in the penal system. The country's human rights record gained international attention in 2010 when advocacy groups raised strenuous objections to Obiang's offer to sponsor a scientific prize through UNESCO. The plan was eventually withdrawn.

Obiang's Mongomo clan, part of the majority Fang ethnic group, monopolizes political and economic power. Differences between the Fang and the Bubi are a major source of political tension that has often erupted into violence. Fang vigilante groups have been allowed to abuse Bubi citizens with impunity.

All citizens are required to obtain exit visas to travel abroad, and some opposition figures have been denied such visas. Those who do travel are sometimes subjected to interrogation on their return.

Constitutional and legal guarantees of equality for women are largely ignored. Both violence against women and discriminatory traditional practices are reportedly widespread.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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