“The press is not subject to any form of censorship whatsoever.”
A small oil-rich country in the Gulf of Guinea known as “Africa’s Kuwait,” Equatorial Guinea has been Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s personal fiefdom for the past 34 years, a record in political longevity.
A few newspapers are the only privately-owned media, while the state-owned media are subject to very strict political censorship. RTVGE, the national radio and TV broadcaster, gets its orders from the information ministry. Since the start of 2011, it has not been allowed to mention the uprisings in the Arab world.
Juan Pedro Mendene, the presenter of a programme called “Detente,” was suspended for a brief ironic allusion to Muammar Gaddafi during the Libyan uprising. “I am Detente’s guide, not the Libyan guide,” he said on the air. A few minutes later, Federico Abaga, the secretary of state for information, radio and television, stormed into the studio, told a technician to disconnect Mendene’s microphone, and ordered Mendene to leave.
A month before that incident, one of the country’s few bloggers, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, went on hunger strike and then fled to Spain, saying he had been the victim of “harassment.”
The country has no journalists’ union or press freedom organization, and the international media have just one correspondent in the capital, who is closely watched.
President Nguema was reelected at the end of 2009 with 96.7 percent of the votes in polling that many international media including the Spanish daily El País were prevented from covering. Is there a lack of pluralism? No, officials reply. The high percentage won by the president in elections is “the result of support for his policies,” they say.
The regime has used high-profile PR operations such as hosting an African Union summit in June 2011 and the African Nations Cup in January 2012 to improve its image, but they were not accompanied by any relaxation in censorship.