Lawyers Ask UN to Help Cartoonist Detained in Equatorial Guinea

Ramón Esono EbaléIt has now been almost three months since graphic novelist and political cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé was arrested without charge in his native country of Equatorial Guinea. Now a U.K.-based law firm specializing in human rights issues has teamed up with Cartoonists Rights Network International and the Equatoguinean advocacy group EG Justice to petition the United Nations on his behalf.

Ebalé has lived in Paraguay since 2011, having fled Equatorial Guinea after threats over his work which frequently criticizes that country’s dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. In 2014 Ebalé and EG Justice published a crowdfunded graphic novel called La Pesadilla de Obi (Obi’s Nightmare), which imagines what Obiang’s life would be like if he suddenly became a regular Equatoguinean citizen. The book was distributed within the country in order to “show the people of Equatorial Guinea a reality different than the one on display on state-owned television and radio,” according to the Kickstarter page.

Obliged to make a brief return to his native country in September to renew his passport, Ebalé was promptly arrested and questioned about his cartoons. He still has yet to be charged with any crime, in violation of Equatoguinean law which says prisoners must be charged or released within 72 hours.

In light of this perversion of justice, the U.K.-based law firm Doughty Street International (DSI) has now taken up his case, filing emergency appeals last week with both the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. According to a statement on DSI’s website, the appeals “request urgent steps to protect Mr Ebalé and to call on the authorities in Equatorial Guinea to comply with their international legal obligations.”

The statement further notes that Obiang’s government has ignored an urgent open letter sent last month by a coalition of international cartooning and human rights organizations, demanding Ebalé’s “immediate and unconditional release from prison.” Individual supporters around the world can also sign EG Justice’s petition on his behalf.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.