MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Authorities have arrested an opposition member who planned to campaign against this month's referendum on a constitutional change that would all but ensure that Africa's longest-serving dictator could extend his rule.
Marcial Abaga Barril, the representative of the main opposition party on the national electoral body, was taken into custody on Nov. 1 allegedly in connection with a murder investigation, according to a statement by New York-based Human Rights Watch. His detention comes days ahead of a Nov. 13 referendum.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has ruled this tiny, oil-rich country for 32 years, and the proposed constitutional changes would allow him to run for two more seven-year terms, as well as create the new post of vice president.
His son Teodorin Obiang Mangue already has been named vice president of the ruling party, heightening speculation that the elder Obiang is attempting to change the constitution in order to assure a father-to-son succession.
"Marcial Abaga's politically motivated arrest is yet another example of President Obiang's offensive against opposition voices," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch in the statement released late Thursday. "The allegation that Abaga is connected with a murder simply has no credibility."
Family members told Human Rights Watch that Abaga was detained outside his home at around 10 p.m. on Tuesday night. He was taken to a Malabo jail nicknamed "Guantanamo." It was only on the afternoon of Nov. 2, more than 12 hours after he was detained, that he was told he was being held into the alleged killing last month of a cook working for Obiang, people close to Abaga told the rights group.
Equatorial Guinea's opposition is small, consisting of only two political parties that are independent of the governing party. Considered one of the most repressive regimes in Africa, the Obiang government is accused of using brutal tactics including arbitrary detention and torture to silence opponents.
In the lead-up to the Nov. 13 poll, police have disrupted events held by Abaga's party, the Convergence for Social Democracy, or CPDS, according to EG Justice, a human rights group in Equatorial Guinea.
Last month, the United States Department of Justice revealed they are attempting to seize assets worth $70 million that the younger Obiang transferred to the United States and used to buy a Malibu mansion, a Gulfstream jet and $2 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia.
Associated Press Writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.