Correction: A statement issued by the government of Equatorial Guinea clarified that Dr. Wenceslao Mansogo Alo was suspended from practicing medicine for five years. Dr. Mansogo was pardoned by President Obiang on June 4, 2012. He was released from Bata central prison on June 6.
(New York) – The conviction of a prominent member of Equatorial Guinea’s beleaguered political opposition is a travesty of justice, Human Rights Watch said today. A trial court in the city of Bata found Wenceslao Mansogo Alo, a medical doctor, guilty of professional negligence and sentenced him to three years in prison in a politically motivated trial.
Mansogo, a leading member of the political opposition and prominent human rights defender, has been detained since February 9, 2012, following the death of a patient during surgery. The court also granted the prosecution’s request for an order to close Mansogo’s private health clinic and ordered him to pay five million CFA (approximately US $10,000) to the patient’s family and a fine of 1.5 million CFA (approximately $3,000) to the government of Equatorial Guinea, according to one of his lawyers who was at the court when the verdict was read. Mansogo has also been barred from practicing medicine for the duration of his sentence. His lawyers plan to appeal the conviction and sentence, as well as the order to close the clinic and impose the fines.
“The conviction of Mansogo does not stand up to scrutiny and should be overturned on appeal,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “His prosecution was clearly opportunistic, designed to remove a vocal opponent from the political arena, and not supported by the facts of the incident in question.”
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have previously called for Mansogo’s immediate and unconditional release, citing the lack of evidence to justify any criminal prosecution, as well as concerns that his detention represented an effort to halt his opposition activities and work to defend human rights.
In addition to owning and operating the Espoir Litoral Medical Center in Bata, where he specializes in gynecology and obstetrics, Mansogo is a leader of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party and serves as its secretary for international relations and human rights. He is also a member of the local city council.
The CPDS is the main opposition party and also conducts human rights education and monitors, investigates, and reports on human rights violations. Party members are regularly harassed, intimidated, and arrested by governmental authorities.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in power in Equatorial Guinea since 1979, is the world’s longest-serving ruler. He oversees a government marked by human rights violations, high-level corruption, and poor socio-economic indicators, despite the country’s very high gross domestic product per capita.
“The Obiang government has exploited the circumstances of a patient’s death to retaliate against a leading critic,” said Bekele. “Mansogo’s conviction should be reversed and he should be released and allowed to carry on his political, professional, and human rights activities freely.”
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about threats against Mansogo’s lawyers. One of his lawyers has repeatedly been threatened with violence by the deceased patient’s father, who is a police official in Bata. Another has been threatened with the suspension of his license to practice law, allegedly because of critical comments he made about the government during closing arguments in the Mansogo trial.
Mansogo has also been subjected to harassment in detention, Human Rights Watch said. Although Mansogo has received visits from his wife and lawyers, he was not allowed other visitors after he was transferred from a police jail to Bata central prison on February 10, despite a court order granting him full visitation rights. In addition, on April 17, police entered his cell and confiscated his personal possessions, including a computer, books, a radio, notebooks, and pens, one of his lawyers said.
The court did not indicate where Mansogo would serve his sentence Conditions in Equatorial Guinea’s prisons are generally poor and include overcrowding, lack of adequate sanitation facilities, little or poor quality food, inadequate access to medical care, and threats to prisoner safety. At Bata central prison, there is no running water or safe drinking water, electricity is sporadic, and the food is inadequate. Prisoners must rely on family members for food, drinking water, and fans for ventilation from the heat.
Background on Mansogo
Mansogo trained and practiced medicine in France for many years before returning to practice medicine in his native country, which, despite its immense oil wealth, has very poor healthcare and high mortality rates. At the government’s request, he headed a special unit at the Central Hospital in Bata from 1994 to 1998. In 1998, Mansogo was fired from the position after proposing that doctors be required to provide proof of qualifications to practice medicine. He went into private practice and opened the Espoir Litoral Medical Center in Bata, one of the country’s leading clinics.
Mansogo serves as the secretary of human rights and international affairs for the Equatoguinean opposition party Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS). In this role, Mansogo has documented and publicized numerous accounts of human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea. He has also attended and presented at numerous international conferences and venues, including speaking on a panel during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Mansogo has traveled widely as a representative of the CPDS party and was to go to Germany in February, but his trip was canceled following his arrest.
Background on the Mansogo Trial
Mansogo’s case was initiated following the death on February 1 of a 36-year-old patient, Isilda Mangue Engó, during a hysterectomy that Mansogo and colleagues performed at his clinic. Police detained Mansogo on February 9, following an accusation by members of the deceased’s family, who initially alleged that organs, specifically part of the external genitalia, had been removed from the body.
Mansogo was held without charge until February 13, when he was provisionally accused of professional negligence and desecration of a cadaver. A medical report on the death issued by doctors at Bata Regional Hospital on February 9 and an inquiry by Equatorial Guinea’s minister of health and social welfare, Dr. Salomón Nguema Owono, on February 10 both concluded that the cause of death was a heart attack and confirmed that the external genitals were intact. The government later dropped the charge of desecration of a cadaver.
Testimony in court during the two-day trial, on April 4 and 5, described how the patient suffered a heart attack during surgery, was revived, and then had a second, fatal heart attack. The prosecution contended that her death was precipitated by the misadministration of anesthesia, based on the ministerial report by Nguema, a fellow gynecologist. However, Mansogo and the nurse anesthetist, who was convicted in the same case and sentenced to six months in prison and a 500,000 CFA (around $1,000) fine, both testified that Mansogo had no responsibility for administering anesthesia.
Moreover, medical personnel called by the prosecution testified at the trial that the anesthesia dosage and protocol were in keeping with professional practices in the country. In addition, Mansogo’s legal team contended that it would be impossible to determine conclusively whether the anesthesia had any role in the patient’s death without conducting an autopsy, which was not performed. In Equatorial Guinea, post-mortem exams are not generally conducted. The minister issued his findings in this case following a visual examination of the body, interviews with the medical team and a review of the clinic’s records from the surgery.
The deceased woman’s father, who is a police official in Bata, took the stand and denied that he had repeatedly threatened one of Mansogo’s lawyers Elías Nzo Ondo. Human Rights Watch has spoken to a witness who corroborated the lawyer’s allegation. Mansogo’s other lawyer, Ponciano Mbomio Nvó, told Human Rights Watch that he has been threatened by the head of the lawyer’s association of Equatorial Guinea with suspension of his license to practice law, allegedly in retaliation for his statements during the closing arguments in Mansogo’s case accusing the government of prosecuting Mansogo for political reasons. Mbomio, who often represents clients in cases that challenge government interests, including defending political opponents, has previously faced government harassment, including the suspension of his license in 2008.
In another example of political interference in the case, on February 20, the health minister – whose report formed the basis for the prosecution’s case – issued an administrative order to close Mansogo’s private clinic, citing legal violations that were demonstrably false, such as lack of air-conditioning and a respirator, both of which the clinic had. However, lawyers advised the clinic that it was lawfully entitled to remain open absent a court order – which the prosecution then asked the court to grant as part of Mansogo’s sentence in the trial.
Background on Justice in Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea’s judiciary lacks independence. Although the constitution recognizes the principle of judicial independence, it designates the president the “chief magistrate” of the country and permits him to name judges without parliamentary approval.
The International Bar Association, following a visit to Equatorial Guinea in 2003, concluded that: “The courts are not independent and impartial,” citing in part “direct intervention from the president in order to protect his personal interests” and expectations that judges demonstrate “loyalty” to the government. Multiple sources indicate that the situation remains unchanged. Lawyers assigned to sensitive cases concerning human rights or national security have reported that judges regularly tell them that judges need to consult with the office of the president regarding their decisions.
Recently adopted constitutional changes serve to further institutionalize the lack of judicial independence. For instance, they extend the president’s considerable power by allowing him to chair the body that controls judges, the Supreme Council on Judicial Power, as well as to appoint the other six members.