After more than 40 years under President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and several years of economic recession, Equatorial Guinea’s foreign relations were marred by corruption cases. On 22 July, the country closed its embassy in London after the UK applied sanctions against Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, vice-president and son of the president, over corruption allegations. On 28 July, the French Court of Cassation upheld his conviction on charges of embezzlement of public funds.
Throughout 2021, restrictive measures to address Covid-19 were reviewed and applied differently in the regions according to infection rates.
Freedom of expression
In its 2021 report, Reporters Without Borders ranked Equatorial Guinea at 164 among 180 countries in its press freedom index, citing strict censorship of media and journalists.
On 29 July, social activist Noelia Asama was arrested without warrant by six plain-clothed members of the security forces at her home in the capital, Malabo, and held in a cell with dozens of men at the Judicial Police station. A regular user of social media to denounce the situation of women in the country, in the months before her arrest Noelia Asama also made Facebook posts highlighting insalubrious conditions at the central food market and corruption in the main trade port. When released the following day, she was questioned by officials about posting videos to social networks as well as about her social media calls for President Obiang to step down.
Noelia Asama called for a demonstration to take place on 16 October against the extension of the curfew to fight against Covid-19. The demonstration was not authorized by the authorities and she received an official letter requiring her to present herself at the government regional delegation on 19 October. From there she was taken to a police station and detained for five hours before being released and told to wait for further notifications and not leave the country.
Human rights defenders
Harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and activists continued.
On 26 May, at a meeting in Malabo with opposition members, President Obiang accused Tutu Alicante, Executive Director of EG Justice and member of the Equatoguinean Commission of Jurists, of receiving funds from US oil companies to destabilize the country.
On 14 September a Health Ministry representative ordered six health workers at the Campo Yaunde Health Centre in Malabo to attend a police station to answer questions regarding a complaint about Covid-19 vaccines being sold at the health centre to vaccinate foreigners. They were detained for a week without access to a lawyer before a judge released them for lack of formal charges and no convincing proof of the accusation. The daughter of one of the health workers was also detained for several days for posting information on their situation on social media.
Right to a fair trial
Explosions at the Nkoantoma military base in Bata on 7 March left at least 100 people dead and more than 600 others injured. Lieutenant Colonel Valentín Nzang Nga Bindang, the head of the military base, and Corporal José Antonio Obama Nsue were found guilty of homicide and negligence and sentenced respectively to 32 and 50 years’ imprisonment by the military court of Bata. The sentences were made public on 2 July. Some national and international NGOs expressed concerns about the military procedure, which hindered the rights of the defendants and did not allow the victims and their families to participate in the proceedings.
In response to the stated aim of the president of Cabo Verde and interim president of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) that Equatorial Guinea should make “quicker” progress towards abolition of the death penalty, the ambassador for Equatorial Guinea in Portugal, Tito Mba Ada, said on 13 July that his country would enact the new Criminal Code, which would abolish the death penalty “very soon”. No such steps had been taken by the end of the year.
Right to health
In August, according to Ministry of Health data, around 144,000 Equatorial Guineans were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, out of a total population of about 1.4 million. Vaccination was obligatory from July for soldiers, health workers and teachers.
According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the country faced a shortage of medicines, including essential ones, due to alleged lack of investment by the Ministry of Health in the purchase of drugs. This led to increased prices, thus preventing access to treatments for people living in extreme poverty.
The first National Assembly on Women in Equatorial Guinea took place on 19 June. Despite such initiatives to empower women, pregnant girls continued to be banned from school following a 2016 order issued by the Ministry of Education as a purported means to reduce adolescent pregnancies.