Equatorial Guinea journalist under arrest

New York, June 18, 2009–A journalist in Equatorial Guinea, facing a criminal libel charge over a flawed story, was imprisoned on Wednesday, according to local journalists. 

Rodrigo Angüe Nguema, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse, was arrested by a plainclothes security agent at a courthouse in the capital, Malabo, and driven handcuffed to the city’s Black Beach Prison, according to local journalist Samuel Obiang Mbana.

On Wednesday, Investigative Judge Agustin Chícampo sent Nguema to prison after he could not post bail of 20 million CFA francs (US$43,000) on charges of slander, according to defense lawyer Fabián Nsue Nguema. No date has been set for a trial, the lawyer said.

The case relates to an April story, which Nguema now acknowledges was false, concerning purported misuse of national airline money. An airline executive, Mamadou Jaye, swiftly denied the allegations in an AFP interview. In an email to CPJ prior to his arrest, Nguema said AFP published a retraction after his source acknowledged passing along erroneous information. The executive is seeking damages in the same amount as the allegations, according to news reports.

“People who believe they have been defamed by a news story have a right to seek redress in civil court, but Nguema should not be imprisoned for an error,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “At this stage, with the case still pending and the evidence not yet heard, jailing Nguema appears to be particularly unwarranted.”

Nguema said his source obtained the false information from a Spain-based news Web site. The lawsuit alleges that Nguema was also the author of the original Web site posting. Nguema denies that assertion.