On October 22, Fabián Nsue set out to do one of the things that lawyers often do: Pay a visit to one of his clients in prison.
His destination was no ordinary jail. It was Black Beach Prison, a place with a reputation so grim that it earned Nsue's home country of Equatorial Guinea the nickname of "the Auschwitz of Africa" back in the 1970s. The warden of the prison at the time was Teodoro Obiang, who went on to become the country's president. Today, after 33 years in power, he enjoys the status of the world's longest serving head of state.
Nsue, who is Equatorial Guinea's most prominent human rights lawyer, headed off to the prison that day at noon. But the officials at the prison didn't bring him to the promised appointment. Instead Nsue found himself in a cell inside the jail, in solitary confinement. There was no bed, no bathroom, no access to a lawyer. Three days after his detention he was transferred to another prison, and then, on October 30, he was finally released -- in the presence of the U.S. ambassador, who had lobbied for his freedom. (During their meeting, one of the Equatoguinean officials who was also present received a call on his mobile phone from Obiang himself, checking in to find out how the matter had been resolved -- a striking example of the ruler's penchant for micromanagement.) The embassy of Equatorial Guinea in the United States did not respond to a request for comment on Nsue's status from FP.
Sadly, activists under Obiang are accustomed to such perverse twists of fate. For 33 years, Obiang has ruled this nation of 700,000 people by winning "elections" with more than 95 percent of the vote. Although he promised his people democracy in 1991, he continues to control all media outlets and uses torture, extrajudicial imprisonment, and censorship to prevent opposition leaders from mounting campaigns against him.
Obiang -- shown on the left in the photo above during a meeting earlier this year with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni -- honed these prodigious skills in torture and imprisonment as a young man, during the 11-year reign of his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, in the 1970s. Macias' bloody rule forced a third of the country's population to flee, and he slaughtered many of those who remained. During this period Obiang refined his skills at Black Beach, where thousands of members of the opposition were tortured and summarily executed, before he ultimately overthrew his uncle in a coup and seized power for himself in 1979.