Ramón Esono Ebalé is a political cartoonist and activist from Equatorial Guinea who was detained by State Security on September 16, 2017. Esono appeared before a judge on October 3, 2017, but has yet to receive charges in violation of Equatoguinean law, which states that no person shall be detained longer than 72 hours without charge. He is being held at Black Beach prison in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea under preventive judicial detention while authorities conduct further investigation.
Esono’s work rose to prominence several years ago via his blog Las locuras de jamón y queso, which featured scathing opinion pieces about the Equatoguinean government and President Teodoro Obiang, always accompanied by his signature cartoons. The blog was eventually blocked in Equatorial Guinea. In 2014, he published a graphic novel along with two other artists, first in English and later in Spanish, titled La Pesadilla de Obi, which portrayed a character inspired by President Obiang waking up to find himself a normal citizen suffering “the consequences of the regime he himself has created”. The aim of the work, according to Esono, was to “un-deify someone who is perceived as a sort of god” in Equatorial Guinea.
Esono has lived abroad for many years, first in Paraguay and now in El Salvador, but was forced to return to Equatorial Guinea in September 2017 to renew his passport after discovering it could not be done at the Equatoguinean consulate in Madrid. According to family members who have been able to visit Esono during his detention, he was aware at the time he returned that he could be targeted for his outspoken political engagement, which violates Equatorial Guinea’s colonial-era defamation statute forbidding criticism of the president or other high-ranking officials.
Esono was informed during his initial interrogation that political engagement itself was not a crime, but that in order to become politically involved he would be required to register a new political party or join one already in existence.
Such censorship of dissenting political opinions is a dangerous attack on freedom of expression and must not be tolerated. Additionally, Equatorial Guinea should repeal its defamation laws and release Ramón Esono Ebalé immediately, allowing him to return to El Salvador, his country of residence.