E Guinea prosecutor calls for release of arrested cartoonist

Malabo - Equatorial Guinea's public prosecutor has demanded the release of a cartoonist, held for more than five months, because of a "lack of evidence".

"Having noted the lack of clear evidence, the prosecution does not ask for any penalty" against Ramon Esono Ebale, prosecutor Rafael Ondo Nguema told the court in capital Malabo at the start of the trial on Monday.

After Ebale was arrested in mid-September, the government announced it was for "money laundering and forgery", saying a million CFA francs in counterfeit money (1 500 euros) was found at his home.

However the African Union has said the artist was arrested over his works that "that regularly criticise the government of Equatorial Guinea".

"They stuck on this motive... so that I spent five months in jail," said Ebale, who works under the pseudonym "Ham and Cheese".

"I do not know anything about money, but I know they arrested me for my cartoons," he said.

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Originally from Equatorial Guinea, Ebale had been living in Paraguay before he returned to renew his passport and was arrested.

According to EG Justice, a US-based rights group, the arrest of Ebale is linked to the publication of a graphic novel in May 2016 called "Obi's nightmare" after President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The publication portrays Obiang as an ordinary Guinean citizen, and highlights the lack of access to electricity, healthcare and education and restriction of freedom of expression in Equatorial Guinea.

Obiang has ruled the oil-rich central African nation since he seized power in 1979.

Despite the discovery of considerable oil reserves in 1996, most of Equatorial Guinea's 1.2 million inhabitants still live in poverty.