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(New York) – The pardon by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea of Dr. Wenceslao Mansogo Alo, the prominent political opponent and human rights defender, is a positive step, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and EG Justice said today. The groups said, however, that the country’s judicial system, which pursued the unjust and politically motivated charges against Dr. Mansogo, is riddled with problems that need to be addressed.

State radio in Equatorial Guinea announced on June 4, 2012, that Dr. Mansogo and co-defendant Asunción Asumu are among several prisoners pardoned by President Obiang, the world’s longest-serving head of state, who celebrated his 70th birthday on June 5. Mansogo’s release from Bata central prison was expected to take place on June 6. It remains unclear whether he has been granted a full pardon or whether conditions will be imposed on his release.

“The decision to release Dr. Mansogo surely comes as a relief after he has spent nearly four months behind bars in dire conditions,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But it also demonstrates that power in Equatorial Guinea rests in the hands of one man, the president; given the lack of evidence in the case, an independent judiciary would never have charged or convicted Mansogo in the first place.”

President Obiang exercises inordinate power over Equatorial Guinea’s judiciary. Lawyers assigned to sensitive cases concerning human rights or national security have reported that judges say they need to consult with the office of the president regarding their decisions. The country’s constitution recognizes the principle of judicial independence, yet it designates the president as the “chief magistrate” of the country and permits him to name judges without parliamentary approval.

Recently adopted constitutional changes 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.

Mansogo was arrested on February 9, convicted on May 7, and sentenced to three years in prison for professional negligence in a politically motivated trial. 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 (US $10,000) to the patient’s family and a fine of 1.5 million CFA (US $3,000) to the government of Equatorial Guinea. Mansogo was also barred from practicing medicine for five years.

The government of Equatorial Guinea has a long-established pattern of pursuing its political opponents in the courts and later granting pardons to some of those convicted. President Obiang typically has granted amnesties to commemorate special occasions. For example, in June 2011, he released 22 political prisoners on his 69th birthday.

“Serious judicial reforms should be immediately implemented to put an end to politically motivated prosecutions and denial of basic freedoms,” said Tutu Alicante, the founder of EG Justice and an exile from Equatorial Guinea. “The people of Equatorial Guinea deserve the rule of law and respect for human rights every day of the year, rather than pardons on the president’s birthday.”

Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and EG Justice called on the government of Equatorial Guinea to immediately reinstate Mansogo’s medical license and seek to have the court orders to close the clinic and levy fines against him dismissed. As Mansogo was wrongfully detained, he should be compensated for his detention, during which time he lost income and incurred unnecessary legal fees.

Dr. Mansogo should immediately be allowed to reopen his clinic and resume practicing medicine so that he can provide his patients with the professional care they deserve,” said Hans Hogrefe, Washington Director of Physicians for Human Rights. “The government of Equatorial Guinea must respect his professional obligation to care to the needs of all those in his community.”

The groups also called for the reinstatement of Ponciano Mbomio Nvó, one of Mansogo’s lawyers, who was suspended from legal practice for two years for criticizing the government in closing arguments in Mansogo’s trial.  

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