Journalists’ equipment seized in Equatorial Guinea

Lagos, Nigeria, January 24, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by reports of grave anti-press violations in Equatorial Guinea ahead of an investment symposium planned for early February.

Armed security agents arrested Javier Blas, Africa editor for the Financial Times, and Peter Chapman, a senior writer for the paper, on January 20 in the capital Malabo, Blas told CPJ. The journalists were in a taxi headed to an interview with a minister at the time of the arrest. They were taken to the Ministry of National Security, where their equipment was confiscated, and they were released after three hours, Blas said. Authorities returned the journalists’ passports and mobile phones after seven hours but have refused to return their laptop, notebooks, and digital recorder, which included interviews with diplomats and local politicians.

Blas, a Spanish national, and Chapman, a British national, had entered the country on January 14 after obtaining a 30-day visa from the Equatorial Guinean embassy in London. They were covering the lead-up to an investment conference being held in early February, Roula Khalaf, foreign editor for the Financial Times, told CPJ. Equatorial Guinea is bringing in experts and investors from all over the world to discuss opportunities to diversify the country’s economy.

“The arrests of Javier Blas and Peter Chapman and the confiscation of their equipment is a warning to all journalists and their potential sources that sharing information carries grave consequences in Equatorial Guinea,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa Consultant. “Authorities should immediately return Blas and Chapman’s reporting equipment to them and refrain from harassing any journalist seeking to cover February’s conference.”

Blas told CPJ that they were both denied access to their local consulates during their detention, which is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Khalaf said the journalists were given press credentials by Information Minister Teobaldo Nchaso Matomba. Blas told CPJ that when they were in custody, a police officer told them that they had been watched for several hours. He said that one of their interviewees had also told them not to have confidential conversations on the phones, as they were being monitored.

He said that the journalists left Equatorial Guinea on January 21, but they were allowed to leave only after they revealed to the authorities their password to their laptop. The journalists returned to London without their laptop, notebooks, and digital recorder.

Matomba told CPJ by phone that he would respond to requests for comment over email. He did not immediately do so.