Political cartoonist and activist Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé has spent over fifty days in detention following his arrest on September 16 in the West African country of Equatorial Guinea. Ebalé was detained as part of the governments recent crackdown on artists who have been critical of government officials.
On November 4, the Association for American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) and Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) awarded Ebalé the 2017 Courage in Cartooning Award in absentia. CRNI is helping to organize and raise awareness about his detention using the hashtag #FreeNseRamon.
Speaking about the award, Joel Pett of CRNI said, “Mr. Ebalé’s continuous refusal to be intimidated by the threats made against him, and his courage in the face of a brutal and repressive regime led our Board of Directors to make this decision.”
Ebalé was arrested outside a restaurant by three state security officers outside the capital Malabo. According to the nonprofit, nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch and EG Justice, Ebalé has been held without charge, far exceeding the 72-hour period allowed under Equatoguinean law. The government is currently considering charges of money laundering and counterfeiting, charges the CRNI has called trumped up.
According to EG Justice, “Interrogators reportedly questioned him about his political cartoons, which often lewdly caricature President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and other government officials, and repeatedly told him that people may only participate in politics if they are associated with an official party.”
Investigators, according to reporting from The Washington Post, appear to be interested in Ebalé’s graphic novel La pesadilla de Obi (Obi’s Nightmare). The graphic novel was published in partnership with EG Justice and is highly critical of current President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s leadership, inequality, and human rights violations.
A defamation statute gives the government of Equatorial Guinea broad authority in criminally prosecuting government critics. “Prosecuting a cartoonist for unflattering satirical drawings is incompatible with free speech and only highlights the power of the pen,” said Sarah Saadoun, researcher at Human Rights Watch.
English PEN reports Ebalé last appeared in court on October 3, but has yet to be formally charged. He has only been allowed to meet with his family a few times since his imprisonment in mid-September. Ebalé’s wife, Eloisa Vaello Marco and daughter accepted the 2017 Courage in Cartooning Award on his behalf.
Wife and daughter of imprisoned Equatorial Guinea cartoonist Ramón Esono Ebalé accept 2017 CRNI Courage in Cartooning Award on his behalf pic.twitter.com/MndoRek1wj
— CRNI (@CRNetInt) November 5, 2017
CRNI has more information about Ebalé’s work and arrest which has been included below:
View Ramon’s work at www.jamonyqueso.co.
Please note there is a Spanish language initiative running in cooperation with our campaign at www.freenseramon.com.
Show your support for Ramon’s release by sharing your illustration with the following hashtag: #FreeNseRamon
Please keep in mind the campaign exclusively aims to get Ramon released from prison because he is innocent.
Our goal is to bring attention to his plight. We are not requesting artwork that is critical of government officials in Equatorial Guinea as we do not want to do anything to jeopardize his case.
Select art will be displayed on the EG Justice #FreeNseRamon website.
The campaign will run from now until Ramon’s release from prison.
More details about his arrest here.
More on Equatorial Guinea at EgJustice.org.
Andrea Ayres writes about comics and representation in pop-culture.