- Several political and foreign prisoners in Equatorial Guinea's unhealthy prisons were yesterday granted pardon by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, including South African "mercenary" Marius Boonzaaier. Also the leader of the outlawed Bioko Island pro-autonomy party MAIB, Weja Chicampo, was finally let free and today fled to Spain.
Early this morning, Mr Chicampo arrived at the Barajas international airport of Madrid (Spain), fleeing his native Equatorial Guinea. The leader of the outlawed Movement for the Self-determination of Bioko Island (MAIB) only yesterday had been pardoned by President Obiang, together with 40 other Equatoguineans and one South African citizen, Mr Boonzaaier.
Mr Chicampo was taken out of the infamous Black Beach prison last night and driven directly to the airport of Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea on Bioko Islands. There, he was checked directly in to the Madrid-bound flight. The MAIB leader had been released for "humanitarian" reasons.
The MAIB is the most popular movement among the Bubi majority people of Bioko Island, which resist the political dominance of the Fang people that dominate the mainland and the country at large. Along with other main opposition parties, MAIB has been declared illegal. MAIB leader Chicampo has been imprisoned and tortured on several occasions, often accused of plotting to overthrow the government or to provoke ethnic strife. MAIB denies this, saying it "exclusively" participates in national politics "in democratic and pacific ways," calling for the establishment of a federal state.
Mr Chicampo was last imprisoned by security forces in Malabo in August 2004, and has maintained in Black Beach prison since then. No charges were raised against him and he was never taken to a court.
The other "prominent" prisoner to be pardoned was South African Boonzaaier, who had been set free "on humanitarian grounds due to illness," according to a statement from the Pretoria Department of Foreign Affairs. Mr Boonzaaier was arrested in Equatorial Guinea in 2005 together with a group of seven other South Africans and charged with an alleged involvement in a coup plot against the government of Equatorial Guinea.
Mr Boonzaaier has been ill for quite sometime and required surgery, the South African government informed. He is the third South African among the group of seven to be pardoned. Other returnees have alleged grave torture against them at Black Beach prison, in line with earlier reports from human rights groups. Arrangements for Mr Boonzaaier's return to South Africa "are currently being finalised," the Pretoria government said.
According to Spanish government sources, authorities in Madrid had been central in negotiating the release of the forty political prisoners. The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs today issued a statement saying it was satisfied "with the decision made by the President of Equatorial Guinea to grant pardon to persons that the Spanish government ... on several occasions had raised its concerns about with Equatoguinean authorities for humanitarian reasons."
On the other hand, the Madrid-based Association for Democratic Solidarity with Equatorial Guinea (ASODEGUE) today issued a statement lamenting the forces "expulsion" of Mr Chicampo. The group recalled that "in Black Beach, there remain many more prisoners without charges put against them, abducted in Equatorial Guinea and nearby countries, whose presence is hidden to international institutions and who are constantly being mistreated."
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