A prominent Equatorial Guinea human rights activist, who was recently beaten by unknown assailants, has been arrested in the capital Malabo where he travelled to receive an award for his work.
Alfredo Okenve was arrested at Malabo’s airport on Friday night when he was about to board a flight to Madrid after the awards ceremony was cancelled earlier in the day, AFP reports.
“The agents took him to the central police station in Malabo,” said the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) in a statement on Saturday
The CPDS has, over the years, seen most of its members detained in a crackdown by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the West African country for 39 years, according to News Central.
A police source confirmed Okenve’s arrest to the AFP, though it is not entirely clear what had caused the arrest.
The popular human rights defender had left his home in the port city of Bata and arrived in Malabo on Thursday, a day ahead of a ceremony at the French Institute where he was to receive the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law from French and German ambassadors.
The award ceremony was, however, cancelled on Friday after the Guinean government sent a formal note to the representatives of the envoy. According to a regional diplomatic source, the government said it did not recognize the award.
“Due to the lack of transparency in the awarding of this prize, the government of Equatorial Guinea cannot recognise its validity,” the formal note cited by AFP said.
The French and German embassies subsequently postponed awarding the prize.
Last October, Okenve said that armed plainclothes security officers severely beat and stabbed him and left him in a remote area of Bata. He said the men forced him out of his car at gunpoint and after beating him, abandoned him in the uninhabited area.
“The assailants may have been targeting his brother, the head of an opposition political party, but continued to beat Okenve even after they confirmed his identity,” Human Rights Watch said in a report while condemning the incident.
Authorities in Equatorial Guinea have long harassed both Okenve brothers for their criticism of the government, the report added.
After the brutal attack in October, Okenve went to Madrid for medical care and returned home this February. He is a principal figure in the country’s civil society movement, being one of the leaders of the Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEID-GE).
Following Okenve’s arrest on Friday, the centre said he had been flown back home to the port city of Bata and placed under house arrest.
Equatorial Guinea is one of Africa’s poorest nation and has Africa’s longest-serving president estimated to be worth $200m. The country has often been hit by corruption scandals mostly related to the alleged lack of transparency towards natural resource revenues.
The 76-year-old president, Obiang, has also been accused of harassing, arbitrarily detaining, and interfering with the work of human rights activists in the country in a move to silence dissent.