Lobby groups are accusing Equatorial Guinea of waging a vendetta war against anti-corruption crusaders.
The accusations come hot on the heels of Malabo issuing a warrant of arrest against 16 individuals it accuses of money laundering and financing terrorism. Those wanted include a French anti-corruption lawyer, Mr William Bourdon, and nine human rights and anti-corruption advocates.
Mr Bourdon founded the French anti-corruption legal advocacy group Sherpa, that has spearheaded lawsuits in France against close relatives of several heads of state accused of embezzling public funds.
Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement that the arrest warrants were in apparent retaliation for the trial against President Teodoro Obiang' Nguema’s eldest son for his involvement in money laundering.
The statement was endorsed by the Human Rights Watch, EG (Equatorial Guinea) Justice, Sherpa and the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF).
Corruption Watch UK, the Rights and Accountability in Development and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), also endorsed the statement.
“The warrant accuses the 16 targets of money laundering and financing terrorism and the arms trafficking in the Central African Republic,” the statement says.
Named in the warrant are also people already in police custody accused of participating in a December 2017 coup attempt.
Those already in custody, the statement said, have been unable to communicate with their families or lawyers since their arrest, raising serious concerns about their risk of torture and other ill treatment and, in some cases, their right to life.
“The Equatorial Guinean government has used every trick in the book to shield the president’s son from credible allegations of stealing more than €100 million ($113 million) in public funds to live in luxury in Paris,” the statement quoted Mr Tutu Alicante, the director of EG Justice, as saying.
Five small islands
“Now it seems they are fabricating charges to retaliate against those who helped a French court convict him for his crimes.”
The Equatorial Guinea’s National Security ministry released a statement on January 23, accusing the 16 people of money laundering and financing terrorism. However, the ministry statement did not provide any evidence against them.
President Nguema is Africa's longest-serving leader, who has ruled the former Spanish colony for 39 years and has been repeatedly accused of rights abuses by various groups.
Equatorial Guinea, though originally a Spanish-speaking country, applied to join the Portuguese-speaking lusophone bloc in 2006 and was admitted.
The country on the west coast of Africa, has a population of 740,000 people occupying a mainland territory called Rio Muni and five small islands, including Bioko, where the capital Malabo is located.
In 2015, before the country formalised joining the Portuguese-speaking bloc, Amnesty International said the Equatorial Guinea authorities had killed nine opposition members.
In 2016, the country’s government said it had abolished the death penalty.