Equatorial Guinea's authorities allow no space for any non-government news media, Reporters Without Borders said today, reacting to the seizure on 9 June in the mainland city of Bata of 200 copies of La Verdad, a small political party newspaper that is the country's sole opposition publication.
"It is not just this case, it is the overall situation for independent news media that is absolutely scandalous," the organisation said. "Under the rule of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a notorious press freedom predator, the least hint of any opposition results in confiscation, arrest or imprisonment."
Equatorial Guinea is often called Africa's Kuwait because of its oil deposits, "but it is one of the continent's forbidden zones for free expression and an unchanging hell for journalists," Reporters Without Borders added.
The copies of La Verdad, which had been sent for distribution on the mainland part of Equatorial Guinea, were seized by airport police on 9 June in Bata, the second largest city of the country.
Published irregularly by the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), it is the only opposition news media. The government controls all the mass media, radio and television. Journalists working for the state media have absolutely no freedom, and just relay official propaganda.
In a weekly programme about matters of national interest in July 2003, for example, the state radio said President Obiang was "the god of Equatorial Guinea" and could "decide to kill without having to render account to anyone and without going to hell."
The day before La Verdad's seizure, airport police confiscated documents in the possession of CPDS leader Placido Miko as he returned to the capital, Malabo, from a trip abroad. The police told him they were acting on orders from a superior.
Pablo Gracia Sáez, the editor of the Spanish-language service of the pan-African news agency afrol News, received a threatening phone call from presidential spokesman Miguel Oyono on 11 April. Oyono accused the Norway-based news agency of "waging a campaign against Equatorial Guinea" and warned Gracia of the "consequences" of what he reported. "We are keeping an eye on you," he added.
In July 2004, the government announced its intention of bringing civil and criminal prosecutions against the international press for its "tendentious comments" about Obiang's relations with the US bank Riggs. The Spanish press was particularly targeted after it published a US senate sub-committee report accusing Riggs of turning a blind eye to corruption in its handling of more than 60 bank accounts for the Obiang administration.
Rodrigo Angue Nguema, the Malabo correspondent of Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Radio France Internationale (RFI), was forcefully pushed by the president's press director on 9 March 2004 and barred from attending a presidential press conference at which only the state media was allowed in.
A few months before that incident, on 3 November 2003, Angue Nguema had been arrested at his home on the orders of the public prosecutor and interrogated about a coup rumour he had mentioned in a dispatch five days earlier. As he was the only journalists to have referred to the rumour, the police argued that he must have information of interest to the authorities. He was held for eight days.