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Opposition figure wrongly convicted

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, May 8, 2012 - The conviction of a prominent member of Equatorial Guinea's beleaguered political opposition is a travesty of justice, Human Rights Watch said today. A trial court in the city of Bata found Wenceslao Mansogo Alo, a medical doctor, guilty of professional negligence and sentenced him to three years in prison in a politically motivated trial.

Mansogo, a leading member of the political opposition and prominent human rights defender, has been detained since February 9, 2012, following the death of a patient during surgery. The court also granted the prosecution's request for an order to close Mansogo's private health clinic and ordered him to pay five million CFA (approximately US $10,000) to the patient's family and a fine of 1.5 million CFA (approximately $3,000) to the government of Equatorial Guinea, according to one of his lawyers who was at the court when the verdict was read. Mansogo has also been barred from practicing medicine for the duration of his sentence. His lawyers plan to appeal the conviction and sentence, as well as the order to close the clinic and impose the fines.

“The conviction of Mansogo does not stand up to scrutiny and should be overturned on appeal,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “His prosecution was clearly opportunistic, designed to remove a vocal opponent from the political arena, and not supported by the facts of the incident in question.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have previously called for Mansogo's immediate and unconditional release, citing the lack of evidence to justify any criminal prosecution, as well as concerns that his detention represented an effort to halt his opposition activities and work to defend human rights.

In addition to owning and operating the Espoir Litoral Medical Center in Bata, where he specializes in gynecology and obstetrics, Mansogo is a leader of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party and serves as its secretary for international relations and human rights. He is also a member of the local city council.

The CPDS is the main opposition party and also conducts human rights education and monitors, investigates, and reports on human rights violations. Party members are regularly harassed, intimidated, and arrested by governmental authorities.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in power in Equatorial Guinea since 1979, is the world's longest-serving ruler. He oversees a government marked by human rights violations, high-level corruption, and poor socio-economic indicators, despite the country's very high gross domestic product per capita.

“The Obiang government has exploited the circumstances of a patient's death to retaliate against a leading critic,” said Bekele. “Mansogo's conviction should be reversed and he should be released and allowed to carry on his political, professional, and human rights activities freely.”

Human Rights Watch expressed concern about threats against Mansogo's lawyers. One of his lawyers has repeatedly been threatened with violence by the deceased patient's father, who is a police official in Bata. Another has been threatened with the suspension of his license to practice law, allegedly because of critical comments he made about the government during closing arguments in the Mansogo trial.

Mansogo has also been subjected to harassment in detention, Human Rights Watch said. Although Mansogo has received visits from his wife and lawyers, he was not allowed other visitors after he was transferred from a police jail to Bata central prison on February 10, despite a court order granting him full visitation rights. In addition, on April 17, police entered his cell and confiscated his personal possessions, including a computer, books, a radio, notebooks, and pens, one of his lawyers said.

The court did not indicate where Mansogo would serve his sentence Conditions in Equatorial Guinea's prisons are generally poor and include overcrowding, lack of adequate sanitation facilities, little or poor quality food, inadequate access to medical care, and threats to prisoner safety. At Bata central prison, there is no running water or safe drinking water, electricity is sporadic, and the food is inadequate. Prisoners must rely on family members for food, drinking water, and fans for ventilation from the heat.

Background on the Mansogo trial

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