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A "Predator of Press Freedom", one who seized power by overthrowing his uncle in 1979, Obiang is hostile to the media but does not hesitate to spend millions on public relations in an effort to improve his country’s image and attract foreign investors.
Ruler of the "African Kuwait," the continent’s third biggest oil producer, he hosted a lavish African Union summit in 2011, funded the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences and hosted the African Nations Cup (CAN) jointly with Gabon in January 2012.
At the same time, he brings defamation actions against NGOs, accusing them of trying to destabilize his country, and continues to curtail civil liberties.
Equatorial Guinea has no journalists’ union or any organization that defends media personnel. The privately-owned media are limited to a few newspapers – La Opinión, El Tiempo and La Nación – which are unable to publish regularly because they lack funding, infrastructure and printing presses.
Foreign journalists are usually denied visas and, on the rare occasions that they are allowed into the country, any attempt to do real reporting is doomed, as a German TV crew discovered when it was expelled in 2011 after daring to interview the government’s leading opponent, Plácido Mico Abogo.
Meanwhile, the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster, RTVGE, which is closely controlled by information, press and radio minister Agustin Nsé Nfumu, constantly praises the country’s development and carries spots glorifying "Equatorial Guinea’s God."
The only privately-owned radio and TV network belongs to the president’s spendthrift son, Téodorin Obiang Nguema, who is more famous for his Ferraris and luxury houses in France and the United States than for his managerial skills. French judges investigating allegations that he used embezzled state assets to acquire property in France issued an international warrant for his arrest in July 2012.
The local media hardly mentioned the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the civil war in Libya or the March 2012 coup in Mali. The government imposed a news blackout on all of these events because it feared they might inspire domestic protests.
The government’s reaction to the onset of the crisis in Libya in March 2011 was to carry out a wave of arrests, swelling the population of Malabo’s notorious Black Beach prison, to prevent copycat protests. At the same time, radio presenter Juan Pedro Mendene was taken off the air in mid-broadcast and then dismissed after briefly alluding to Libya’s "Guide".
As Equatorial Guinea is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most closed and authoritarian countries, and has one of the worst rankings in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, the development of the Internet and blogging is seen as offering the best hope for freedom of expression even if there are so far relatively few Internet users.
Updated in October 2012
Equatorial Guinea - 10 January 2013
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