PEN SA Concerned at Blocking of Cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé’s Movement from Equatorial Guinea

07 May 2018
PEN SA Concerned at Blocking of Cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé’s Movement from Equatorial Guinea

Edit, 4 June 2018: We are happy to note that Esono Ebalé has been allowed to leave, and has left Equatorial Guinea. We express our hope that his movement is no longer restricted and his right to criticise his government is no longer  impinged upon.

PEN SA expresses concern about reports from human rights groups, including PEN International, that the Equatoguinean cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé has not been allowed to leave the country since his release from prison this March. Esono Ebalé, whose case was featured by PEN SA during the 2017 Day of the Imprisoned Writer, has not been re-issued his renewed passport by authorities. As such, he cannot return to his family in El Salvador, where he lives.

The original charges brought against Esono Ebalé, for which he has since been acquitted, appeared to have been in retaliation for his editorial and creative cartoons, which unflatteringly depicted members of the Equatoguinean government, including the country’s president since 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Says the statement from PEN International and its co-signatories:

An arbitrary or unreasonable delay in renewing Esono Ebalé’s passport violates his right to leave one’s own country, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and multiple treaties to which Equatorial Guinea is a party.

“The authorities in Equatorial Guinea should stop procrastinating and immediately renew Ramón Esono Ebalé’s passport,” said Angela Quintal, PEN SA member, and Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It’s the least they can do, given he was framed in the first place. He has suffered enough and should be allowed to join his family.”

Any suggestions that the delay in re-issuing the passport is a matter of procedure are tempered by the fact that Esono Ebalé was in Equatorial Guinea to renew his passport when he was arrested. After his arrest in September 2017, the police interrogated him at length about his drawings, but a news broadcast on a state-owned television channel a few days after the arrest claimed that police had found one million Central African francs (US$1,800) in a car Esono Ebalé was driving. He was formally charged with counterfeiting.

The charge sheet alleged that a police officer, acting on a tip, had asked Esono Ebalé to exchange large bills and had received counterfeit notes in return. However, Esono Ebalé’s lawyer and another person who was at the February 27 trial, told the organizations that the state’s sole witness recanted this story, telling the court that his superiors had ordered him to charge Esono Ebalé with the crime. The court eventually acquitted Esono Ebalé.

PEN SA, along with our international colleagues, call for Esono Ebalé’s passport to be expedited, and his freedom to leave his own country restored.

Photo by Rafael Carvalho