The authorities gave orders on 1 August to withdraw all copies of the latest issue of the pro-government weekly Ebano from sale and then burn the entire issue because of an article about government harassment of the media and journalists in Equatorial Guinea.
The story was based on an interview with Samuel Obiang Mbana, a freelance reporter for Agence France-Presse, Deutsche Welle and Africa No. 1 radio, who called on the government to train the security forces to respect the role of the media and to let journalists to their job.
In the interview, Obiang Mbana described his latest run-in with the security forces at a political meeting a few days ago, when a plainclothes policeman accosted him and a reporter for the newspaper El Lector, confiscated their camera memory cards and took them to the security ministry, where they were later released.
“This is a blatant violation of the right to access information,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Aside from the island where Malabo, the capital, is located, most of the country is cut off from freely-reported news and information. Journalists are followed and threatened. The Internet is censored. We urge the authorities to let journalists work properly, especially with parliamentary elections due in December.”
Hounded by the security forces
According to the information obtained by RSF, Obiang Mbana was denied access to a press conference by the interior minister on 26 July on the grounds that “His Excellency said he did not want Africa No. 1.”
As the article reported, Obiang Mbana has often been arrested or harassed by the authorities in connection with his work in recent years. In March 2016, for example, he was arrested while covering the use of force by police to break up a student demonstration in Malabo. Neither his equipment nor his photos were returned to him when he was freed after being held for eight hours at police headquarters.
Equatorial Guinea has been ruled since 1979 by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who keeps the civilian population and the media under the closest control and predictably won another term in April 2016.
The very few independent media outlets are subject to frequent obstruction, while journalists can be detained without charge. There is constant censorship with the aim of silencing all criticism of the regime. It extends to foreign reporters, who are often denied visas or forcibly expelled.
Equatorial Guinea is ranked 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling another three places in the past year.