The first two measures announced by the government at the beginning of the year were encouraging. It gave its permission on 22 January 2002 for a new independent daily, La Nación, to be published, and on 29 January, the inter-ministerial commission for human rights announced that Equatorial Guinean citizens would no longer need an exit visa to travel abroad.
In a rare event a few days later, the state-owned media criticised the government. The daily Ebano complained about the lack of public housing, while the national radio and television broadcaster RTVGE asked why the government had not increased the pay of civil servants by 200 per cent, as it had promised a few months earlier. Information minister Lucas Nguema Esono immediately summoned all of the state-owned media editors to remind them to toe the line, and a radio journalist was docked a month’s pay in February.
A harsher line emerged in the spring. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights put an end to the mandate of its special rapporteur for Equatorial Guinea in April, welcoming "the will manifested by the government to implement a national action plan in the area of human rights." This gave President Teodoro Obiang Nguema a free hand, and he immediately used it for a crackdown. The trial of 144 persons accused of "attacking the Head of State, conspiracy and incitement to rebellion" began on 23 May in Malabo with the leaders of the main opposition parties among the defendants. The press was not made welcome at the trial. Journalists from the independent media who turned up at the courtroom were threatened by presidential guards and policemen, and found it hard to find seats as they were reserved for the state-run media. The Agence France-Presse correspondent was denied access to the courtroom on 2 June. On 9 June, 68 persons including the main opposition leaders received prison terms ranging from six to 20 years.
President Obiang Nguema was reelected with 97.1 per cent of the votes on 18 December after a campaign in which the state-run television dedicated all of its coverage to the incumbent and ignored the meetings of the opposition candidates.
A journalist physically attacked
Eusebio Ndong Nsue, a journalist with El Correo, was manhandled by municipal policemen in mid-September 2002 as he tried to photograph them in the process of forcibly closing a restaurant in Malabo. They tried to grab his camera but passers-by went to his help and he got away with just a torn shirt.
Pressure and obstruction
The privately-owned weekly La Opinión and the Equatorial Guinean Press Association (ASOPGE) were banned on 30 April 2002 from holding any of the activities (including a conference and exhibition) they had prepared for World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
Information minister Alfonso Nsue Mokuy asked the ASOPGE to close on 6 May, saying it must not function as "a parallel government" and must organise all its activities together with the ministry. The ASOPGE had accused the minister of violating press freedom a few days earlier.
The deputy information minister announced on 22 May that he intended to make it obligatory for foreign correspondents to have official accreditation issued by his ministry. This accreditation would be for limited period and its renewal would not be automatic, he said.
Police confiscated the camera of a photographer with the La Opinión newspaper on 29 May.
Rodrigo Angue Nguema, a stringer for the BBC, Agence France-Presse and the news agency Panapress, and Pedro Nolasco Ndong, editor of the weekly La Nación and ASOPGE president, were threatened by members of the presidential guard on 1 June with being barred from the trial of 144 government opponents if they continued to "have contact" with defendants. Angue Nguema said they thought he was taking too much interest in the violence undergone by the accused. Police barred him from the courtroom the next day on the grounds that he had used a "banned pavement."
La Nación editor Pedro Nolasco Ndong fled the country on the night of 9 July because he felt threatened by the authorities. The previous month, he had posted articles on the Internet voicing concern about the state of health of those who had been convicted of plotting against the regime and criticising their "inhuman conditions of detention."
Now in exile in Europe, Pedro Nolasco Ndong in mid-September accused Agustín Nze Nfumu, the general secretary of the ruling PDGE party, of plotting with the deputy information minister to replace the ASOPGE leadership with one under their control. Nze Nfumu denied this on 20 September. Nonetheless, a new provisional leadership for the ASOPGE was announced on 26 September. Its president was Trinidad Morgades Besari, the editor of El Correo, a privately-owned weekly linked with the government. The director of the state-owned radio, the director general of the national press, and a presidential adviser for press affairs were also part of the new ASOPGE board. None of the ASOPGE’s existing leadership or founder members were told in advance.