As Equatorial Guinea, host of the closely watched Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament, tries to keep all eyes on the ball, security forces have been rounding up protestors distributing leaflets against the high-priced sporting event.
Critics say the government wants to use the event to make people forget about poverty and human rights violations in the country.
“Of course the regime in Malabo is trying to improve the country’s image abroad,” said Victor Nogueira of Amnesty International. The rights group is one of many voices that have consistently criticized the government of Equatorial Guinea for massive human rights violations.
“This is a very repressive, dictatorial regime that continuously attacks the opposition,” Nogueira said in a press interview. “The way the justice system works in the country is very reprehensible. There are extrajudicial executions, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are suppressed.”
Amnesty. the Open Society Justice Initiative and other groups issued a statement: “Exercising freedom of expression should never be the basis for imprisonment, and reflects poorly on Equatorial Guinea’s role as host of the Africa Cup of Nations.”
Police records indicate that one of the arrested protestors, Celestino Okenve, was charged with “destabilizing” the games, although he has not appeared before a judge. Okenve is a retired professor from a Spanish university where he taught communications. He is also the coordinator of the Solidarity Forum for Equatorial Guinea and a blogger and political activist.
Tutu Alicante, head of the human rights group EG Justice, said: “If President Obiang feels comfortable arbitrarily detaining and denying justice to citizens while the eyes of Africa are on Equatorial Guinea then I shudder to think of what we have ahead of us when presidential elections are held between now and next year.”
Meanwhile, back on the field, mayhem erupted when Tunisia refused to accept a controversial penalty during injury time that paved the way for a quarter final 2-1 victory by the host country.
Police had to escort the Equato-Guineans players off the field and the referee was seen running from the pitch.