E Guinea opposition hopes for early prisoner release after amnesty
Equatorial Guinea's main opposition party said on Thursday it hoped for the early release of its jailed members a day after authoritarian President Teodoro Obiang Nguema declared a "total amnesty" for all political prisoners.
Speaking to AFP, Gabriel Nse Obiang, head of the banned Citizens for Innovation (CI) party, said: "We hope our political prisoners will be released by tomorrow or Saturday."
The release should not be "limited" to CI members but apply to all of Obiang's political opponents, he added.
Obiang, 76, has ruled the West African state since 1979, a tenure widely criticised for corruption, human rights abuses and misuse of the country's oil wealth.
On Wednesday, he issued a decree granting "total amnesty to all citizens condemned by the courts," a move that came in the context of a claimed process of national dialogue.
The amnesty would "enable broad attendance by all political actors," including "legalised political parties, political actors from home and abroad, civil society and religious faiths," according to the decree.
All who took part were guaranteed "freedom" and "safety."
Rights monitor Amnesty International said words had to be followed by action.
"The president's decision to release prisoners jailed for their political activities and opposition figures must be a first real step towards their effective freedom," it said.
"In 2014, a similar announcement was made by the president but not all political prisoners were released."
A Western diplomat was scathing, saying the announcement "was a con game and everyone knows it."
"For a real dialogue... there have to be free elections," the diplomat said.
The CI was banned on February 26. Twenty-one of its members, including the party's sole MP, were subsequently sentenced to 30 years for "sedition, public disorder, attacks on authority and serious bodily harm."
Dozens of its supporters have been tortured, according to the CI which says two have died in custody.
The crackdown against the party was purportedly over scuffles that took place before legislative elections last November - but it came on the heels of the latest in a string of attempted coups against Obiang.
On June 11, Obiang made a speech broadcast on nationwide TV declaring that a "dialogue and political interaction" would take place "to preserve peace and development."
The "dialogue," scheduled for July 16-21, is the sixth in his 38 years in office.
The last such event was held in 2014 and five opposition parties were legalised after that, including the CI.
The main opposition party at the time, the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), boycotted the talks.
On Tuesday, five opposition parties said they were ready to participate in the dialogue provided it was held "outside Equatorial Guinea... or in Equatorial Guinea but with the backing, help, protection and security of the international community."
The CPDS said the announcement was a "positive" development, adding that political prisoners had deprived of their basic rights in an "arbitrary manner."
In his remarks to AFP on Thursday, CI leader Nse Obiang said he attached "much value" to the president's amnesty offer, but that it must be "genuine... (and not) a trap."
And the party would have to be authorised again, he said.
"In this case, we would be ready to take part in the dialogue," he said.
Obiang seized power in the former Spanish colony by ousting his own uncle, first post-independence president Francisco Macias Nguema, who was then shot by firing squad.
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He has since seen off at least half a dozen assassination or coup attempts, the latest of which reportedly involved a group of men from Chad, CAR and Sudan.
He won a fifth seven-year term in 2016 with nearly 94% of the ballot. General elections last November saw his party win 92 percent of the vote. Both elections have been criticised as fraudulent.
Obiang's son, Vice President Teodorin Nguema Obiang, 49, was handed a three-year suspended prison term by a French court last year and fined $35m for money laundering, corruption and abuse of public assets, used to fund a lavish lifestyle in Paris.