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Equatorial Guinea3 June 2002

Independent press faces daily obstacles in covering opposition figures’ trial

Reporters Without Borders has urged President Teodoro Obiang Nguema to ensure that the independent press can cover the trial of 144 opposition figures accused of conspiracy without obstruction and with a sense of security. "Independent journalists have faced daily pressure since the opening of the trial," protested Robert Ménard, the organisation’s secretary-general. "It appears that the authorities are deliberately seeking to prevent the independent press from circulating information about this political trial," he added.

On 23 May 2002, the trial of 144 defendants, including certain opposition party leaders, opened in Malabo. They are accused of an "attempt on the life of the head of state, conspiracy and incitement to rebellion".

According to information collected by Reporters Without Borders, journalists from the independent press are verbally threatened by presidential guards and police on an almost daily basis. In addition, these journalists have difficulty finding seats in the courtroom, as journalists from the official press are given priority seating.

On 2 June, Rodrigo Angue Nguema, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP), the BBC and the PanAfrican News Agency (PANA), was unable to attend the trial’s ninth hearing. Police officers and presidential security guards prevented him from entering the courtroom, allegedly because the journalist had used a sidewalk that the police had "sealed off", even though he showed his press card to police officers.

The previous evening, presidential security guards threatened to bar Nguema and Pedro Nolasco Ndong, president of the Equatorial Guinea Press Association (APSOGE), from entering the court if they continued to "have contact" with the accused. According to Nguema, he is seen as lending too much attention to the brutal treatment of the defendants.

On 29 May, police officers also confiscated the equipment of a photographer from the independent newspaper "La Opinion".

Reporters Without Borders previously expressed its serious concern about the constant deterioration in press freedom in Equatorial Guinea in a 23 May letter to the head of state. On 22 May, the vice-minister for information announced his intention to force foreign press correspondents to acquire official accreditation from the ministry. This temporary accreditation is to be mandatory and renewable "on a case-by-case basis".

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