OfficerAdmits Superiors Ordered Dubious Charges
Nairobi, March 7, 2018
AnEquatorial Guinean court on March 7, 2018 released an artist imprisoned ondubious charges for nearly six months, 18 human rights groups said today. Theprosecution dropped all charges against Ramón Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist whosework is often critical of the government, at his February 27 trial after thepolice officer who had accused him of counterfeiting $1,800 of local currencyadmitted making the accusation based on orders from his superiors.
"It is a huge relief that theprosecution dropped its charges against Ramon, but they should never have beenpressed in the first place," said Salil Tripathi, chair of PENInternational's Writers-in-Prison Committee. "We urge the authorities toguarantee his safe return to his family, allow him to continue creating hishard-hitting cartoons, and ensure that Equatorial Guinea respects the right tofreedom of expression.”
Theglobal #FreeNseRamon coalition, consisting of hundreds of artists, activists,and organizations devoted to protecting artistic freedom, freedom of expression andother human rights, carried out a campaign to direct international attention tohis situation.
“Ramon’s release from prison is a testament ofthe power of collective work of hundreds of artists, concerned citizens, andNGOs,” said Tutu Alicante, director of EG Justice, which promotes human rightsin Equatorial Guinea. “But we must not forget that dozens of governmentopponents who are not as fortunate fill Equatorial Guinea’s jails; thus, thefight against human rights violations and impunity must continue.”
Esono Ebalé, who lives outside of his nativeEquatorial Guinea, was arrested on September 16, 2017, while visiting thecountry to request a new passport. Police interrogated him about drawingscritical of the government, said two Spanish friends who were arrested andinterrogated alongside him and were later released.
But a news report broadcast on agovernment-owned television channel a few days after the arrest claimed thatpolice had found 1 million Central African francs in the car Esono Ebalé wasdriving. On December 7, he was formally accused of counterfeiting. The chargesheet alleged that a police officer, acting on a tip, had asked him to exchangelarge bills and received counterfeit notes in return.
“Equatorial Guinea’s government has a longrecord of harassing and persecuting its critics,” said Mausi Segun, Africadirector at Human Rights Watch. “Ramon’s release is an important victoryagainst repression.”
At the trial on February 27 in Malabo,Equatorial Guinea’s capital, it became clear that the police officer who hadmade the accusations had no personal knowledge of Esono Ebalé’s involvement inthe alleged crime, according to his lawyer and another personpresent at the trial. After offering details that conflicted with theofficial account, the officer admitted that he had acted on orders of hissuperiors, they said. Theprosecution then withdrew the charges.
“We are delighted that Ramón was acquitted and isfinally free,” said Angela Quintal, AfricaProgram Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists. “The fact that the state's main witness recanted,underscores the point that authorities manufactured the charges in the firstplace. Ramon should never have spent a single day behind bars and we trust thathe will not be subjected to any further reprisal.”
Thehuman rights groups are Amnesty International, Arterial Network, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists,Asociación Profesional de Ilustradores de Madrid, CartoonistsRights Network International, Cartooning for Peace, Committee to Protect Journalists,Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jonathan Price and Paul Mason, Doughty StreetChambers, UK, EG Justice, FIDH, within theframework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders,Freemuse, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, PEN America, PENInternational, Reporters without Borders, Swiss Foundation Cartooning forPeace, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of theObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
“Now that Ramon has been released, the authorities must launch a thoroughand effective investigation into whether the charges against him werefabricated, and ensure that the criminal justice system is no longer misused totarget and harass human rights defenders,” said Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’sCampaigner on Equatorial Guinea.
For more information, please contact:
In Chapel Hill, for EG Justice, Tutu Alicante (Spanish, English, French): +1-615-479-0207 (mobile); or email@example.com. Twitter: @TutuAlicante
In New York, for Human Rights Watch, Sarah Saadoun (English): +1-917-502-6694 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sarah_saadoun
In Washington, DC, for Cartoonists Rights Network International, Robert Russell(English): +1-703-543-8727;or email@example.com. Twitter: @BroDirector