Clean Operation: Equatorial Guinea imprisons hundreds of young people in a controversial campaign against crime | International

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, ‘Teodorín’, vice president of Equatorial Guinea and son of the country’s president, in an image from 2013. Jerome Leroy

The Government of Equatorial Guinea has launched an intense campaign against juvenile delinquency, called Operation Clean Up, which has led to the arrest of hundreds of young people in the last four months. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and citizen associations in the country assure that many of these arrests are arbitrary, that torture and ill-treatment are taking place, and that the rights of prisoners are being violated, since visits are prohibited and they have not been tried. Operation Clean-up mimics the heavy-handed profiles and little respect for human rights of the fight against the gangs of the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, or the violent fight against drug trafficking of former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

In the Equatoguinean public television news program, the image is shocking: dozens of young people without shirts, head down and handcuffed, are displayed in the courtyard of a government prison while the presenter assures that at least 416 people have been detained in the first weeks of Operation Cleanup only in Malabo, the country’s capital. Three months later the exact number of citizens deprived of liberty is unknown, but Amnesty International assures that there may be at least a thousand. The Government has not responded to EL PAÍS’ request for information. At least two young people have died in prison.

On May 2, the Vice President of Equatorial Guinea and head of Defense and Security, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, nicknamed Teodorín, summoned those responsible for the Police and the Gendarmerie to launch this war without quarter against juvenile delinquency and citizen insecurity after that several gangs were identified operating with great violence, especially in the cities of Bata and Malabo. One of the most aggressive is known as Eight Machetes, dedicated above all to home robberies and robberies in the streets.

The circumstance that Teodoro Nguema Obiang was sentenced in 2017 in France to three years in prison exempt from serving time for laundering tens of millions of euros in that country as a result of the collection of illegal commissions and corrupt practices in Equatorial Guinea during his time as Minister of Agriculture and Forests. The court also confiscated all the assets acquired with the 110 million euros that he illegally removed from his country, including a 4,500-square-meter building and a collection of luxury cars and works of art.

Although Nguema Obiang is the visible head of Operation Clean-up, the one who is actually behind this initiative is his father and president of Equatorial Guinea since 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the non-monarchist head of state who has been in power for the longest time in the world. . A few days after his son presented the initiative, the autocrat launched a harsh message against young delinquents and laid the foundations for the type of campaign that was underway, taking advantage of the inauguration of the urban district of Ebang on May 7.

“Don’t pay attention to the rules that international organizations talk about when they say that we are going against human rights, it is a tactic that they are using to destabilize nations (…) we have already declared war on criminals, because it is absurd that the people suffer for these criminals. No one can sleep peacefully or walk the streets in peace, we are not going to respect the lives of these criminals who do not respect or consider the lives of others. They are killing innocents, if they don’t stop they will have to be reduced to the point of killing them, we don’t care about the criticism made by international organizations that get involved in everything, because what they want is to destabilize the country,” Obiang assured.

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curfew for minors

Some of the measures implemented by the Government have been a curfew for minors from 10:00 p.m., the prohibition of selling alcoholic beverages to minors and the obligation to present a prescription at pharmacies to buy some medicines used as narcotics, such as Tramadol. “There are going to be many serious consequences, difficult for these people. Many will spend years in jail. It is not something we want to do, it is not our mission to punish the people as we are going to punish them now, but the people are the ones who send us (…), we are going to clean this country of the bandits, of the criminals”, assured the Vice President Nguema Obiang, who also criticized the justice system for granting provisional release to those accused of crimes: “They are complicating our work (…) these judges are responsible. 90% of the problem we are experiencing is the fault of the judges. We can arrest 50,000 criminals, but if they are released after a while we have to start all over again.”

Amnesty International has expressed its concern about these arrests. “This operation has led to appalling human rights violations,” says Marta Colomer, campaign manager for West and Central Africa. “Under the pretext of fighting crime, young people are arbitrarily detained, many of whom suffer torture or other ill-treatment, lose their lives or are subjected to enforced disappearance. The Equatorial Guinean authorities must immediately put an end to this campaign, which is basically a targeted attack on human rights. It is entirely possible to deal with criminal cases while respecting human rights at the same time,” she adds.

Joaquín Eló, coordinator of the Somos Más platform in Equatorial Guinea, denounces that there are many young people detained without any connection to crime, whose families have not even known where they are for weeks, and that arrests continue to occur. “There are people who point out supposed suspects, the police come, beat them up and take them away. Among the detainees there are 130 minors and it is not known what has happened to some of them, nobody gives information. The feeling is of police impunity.” In his opinion, Operation Clean-up has served as an excuse to “sow fear among the population.” “The increase in crime has an origin, it is the result of the policies of this Government, the majority of Guineans do not have a job, we lack everything. And now that same government pretends to present itself as the solution, causing panic among young people, ”he points out.

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