June 7, 2006

Amnesty welcomes release of 12 prisoners

MALABO (Reuters) - Amnesty International on Wednesday
welcomed Equatorial Guinea's release of around a dozen
prisoners of conscience, but urged the African state to end the
use of torture and to free its remaining political detainees.

The human rights group said the dissidents were among 42
people pardoned on Sunday to mark the 64th birthday of
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the tiny,
oil-rich state since seizing power in a 1979 coup.

Amnesty said in a statement that among those released were
between 10 and 15 prisoners of conscience linked to the
Republican Democratic Party, convicted in June 2002 of trying
to overthrow Obiang's government.

The group expressed concern that the men, who it said were
tortured before an unfair trial, were made to sign statements
before their release pledging not to participate in politics
for 10 years.

Amnesty also denounced the deportation to Spain of Weja
Chicampo, a political campaigner who had spent more than two
years in prison without charge.

Obiang granted a humanitarian pardon to a South African,
Marius Boonzaaier, who was among a group of foreigners jailed
in 2004 over an alleged coup plot partly funded by the son of
former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mark Thatcher pleaded guilty to taking part in the foiled
coup but cut a deal with South African prosecutors to avoid

Massive oil discoveries in the mid-1990s brought Equatorial
Guinea billions of dollars of foreign investment, and
transformed it into sub-Saharan Africa's third largest

Long regarded as one of Africa's most brutal regimes,
Obiang's government has recently made faltering moves toward
reform, under pressure from Washington.

But the State Department, as well as human rights groups,
continues to denounce the use of torture and a lack of basic
political freedoms there.