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Equatorial Guinea: Arrest Highlights Arbitrary Justice

Obiang Government Denies Rights, Seeks Improved Global Image

Update: On August 21 2012, Florentino Manguire was released without charge.

(Washington, DC) – The arbitrary arrest and detention of a former business associate of the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president demonstrates the government’s continued violation of basic rights, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch said today. The arrest came just days before Equatorial Guinea is to host an event designed to improve its global image.

Florentino Manguire Eneme Ovina was detained on August 11, 2012, in the city of Bata, and transferred on August 13 to the central police station in Malabo, the capital, according to sources close to him. No warrant was issued authorizing his arrest, nor was he brought before a judge within the 72-hour period required under national law, the sources said.

The 48-year old Manguire is the former director of two forestry companies established in Equatorial Guinea by Teodoro (“Teodorín”) Nguema Obiang Mangue, the eldest son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and the country’s second vice president. Teodorín served for over 10 years as the government’s agriculture and forestry minister. Manguire previously was held without charge for approximately a year after a falling out with Teodorín and ultimately spent over two years in prison, including several months following a conviction on unsubstantiated theft charges in an unfair trial.

“Florentino Manguire’s arrest and continued detention are further examples of the lack of rule of law in Equatorial Guinea,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Manguire has been repeatedly jailed without formal charges, raising concerns that he is being harassed for perceived disloyalty to President Obiang’s son, not for any crime.”

The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, founded to honor the memory of the American civil rights leader, is holding its IX Sullivan Summit in Equatorial Guinea from August 20-24, in collaboration with President Obiang. The foundation has said that the event would “showcase to the international community the advancement Equatorial Guinea has made in human development and the human rights arena.”

Manguire’s lawyer, Ponciano Mbomio Nvó, and a witness told EG Justice and Human Rights Watch that on the day of his arrest in Bata, Manguire was at a local cultural center affiliated with the French embassy, when he received a phone call and later a visit from a police officer who told Manguire that he was required to appear before a senior security official – who is also a son of President Obiang – to answer some questions.

When Manguire appeared as requested, the senior official was not available, and Manguire was detained without explanation or warrant. He was held at the Bata central police station until his transfer without explanation to Malabo. The lawyer, who spoke to Manguire both before and after his arrest, and others close to the detainee, said that no charges have been filed against Manguire.

He believes, however, that Manguire is being held on suspicion of anonymously circulating to an online media outlet documents describing Teodorín’s business practices since leaving his post as forestry minister. During an interrogation on August 14, without the presence or advance knowledge of his lawyer, Manguire was repeatedly asked how the documents became public. Manguire denies having shared the documents in question, the lawyer said.

The United States Department of Justice and judicial authorities in France are pursuing investigations against Teodorín for alleged corruption and money-laundering. The French investigation has so far led to seizures of Teodorín’s property in Paris, including a fleet of luxury cars, lavish home furnishings, and a mansion in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. French authorities issued an international arrest warrant against Teodorín in July in connection with their investigation.

Manguire’s previous detention began in May 2010 and was briefly interrupted when a judge provisionally released him; but later the same day, the judge ordered Manguire returned to custody. Manguire was ultimately tried and convicted in September 2011 on charges that he stole forestry equipment from two companies owned by Teodorin, SOFONA and SOMAGUI. The judicial process did not meet international fair-trial standards. Manguire was pardoned by President Obiang in June, after spending more than two years behind bars.

Since August 13, Manguire has been held in the Malabo central police station, informally known as “Guantánamo” because of its reputation for abuses against detainees. Manguire has not been ill-treated and has been allowed visits from his family and others, sources close to him told EG Justice and Human Rights Watch.  

The government of Equatorial Guinea should respect Manguire’s due process rights if they intend to charge him with a criminal offense, and should release him immediately unless the authorities produce before a court compelling evidence justifying his continued detention in accordance with the law, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch said.

They expressed concern that Manguire is not able to be represented in court by his longtime lawyer, Ponciano Mbomio Nvó, and will need new counsel if the matter continues. Mbomio has been suspended from practicing law in retaliation for his defense of a political prisoner, Dr. Wenceslao Mansogo Alo, who was partially pardoned by President Obiang in June.

“Attendees of the Sullivan conference next week need to know about these kinds of violations, not sweep them under the rug while celebrating the myth of Equatorial Guinea’s ‘advancement,’” Bekele said.

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