His work has been very critical of the current regime and he was arrested during a visit back to his home country. He now lives in El Salvador where he works under the pen name Jamón y Queso, which means Ham and Cheese. He returned to Equatorial Guinea two months ago simply to renew his passport, only to find himself arrested in September. Despite the law stating he be taken before a judge within 24 hours or charged with a crime within 72 hours, neither of these has happened.
Ebalé targeted Equatoguinean leader Obiang in his cartoons and kickstarted a satirical graphic novel called Obi's Nightmare, which imagines what Obiang's life would be like if he suddenly became just an Equatoguinean citizen.
It is believed however that, rather than being charged with criminal defamation, but he will charged for money laundering and currency counterfeiting to avoid the charge that they are curtailing free expression.
The following letter has been sent by a number of cartoonist alliance, human rights, and free speech activist organisations.
Open Letter to the President of Equatorial Guinea: Release Artist and Writer Ramón Esono Ebalé
Mr. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Avenida de la Libertad
Malabo, Guinea Ecuatorial
We write to express our deep concern in response to the unjust arrest and subsequent detention without charge of Ramón Esono Ebalé in Malabo on 16th September 2017, and to urge you to release him immediately.
Mr. Ebalé and two of his friends were stopped by police, handcuffed, and had their mobile phones seized while getting into Mr. Ebalé's sister's car after leaving a restaurant in Malabo. Police then interrogated Mr. Ebalé about his drawings of, and blog posts about members of the Equatoguinean leadership, and told him – in front of his two friends – that he needed to make a statement explaining those drawings and blog posts. It was confirmed by police that only Mr. Ebalé was the target of the arrest, and not his two friends.
Mr Ebalé has learned that he faces potential charges of counterfeiting and money laundering; offences that were apparently never mentioned to him or his friends when they were arrested. Mr. Ebalé's prolonged detention without charge gives rise to serious concerns that these allegations are no more than a pretext to justify the ongoing arbitrary deprivation of liberty he is being subjected to.
Mr. Ebalé's extended detention at Black Beach prison without charge appears to be a clear violation of Equatorial Guinean law, which requires charges to be filed within 72 hours of an arrest. A judge has not mandated preventative detention in his case, which under exceptional circumstances would allow the police to hold him without charge for longer, nor does there appear to be a basis for such an order.
Mr. Ebalé, a renowned cartoonist who has been living abroad since 2011, has now spent 60 days in prison. His arrest in Equatorial Guinea—where he returned to renew his passport—has received global attention with calls for his release from fellow journalists, artists, activists, and human rights and press freedom organizations.
As Equatorial Guinea prepares to join the UN Security Council in January 2018, the world is watching the case of Mr. Ebalé closely. We hope that as your country takes this prominent position on the world stage, your government respects all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In this vein, we call on your Excellency, and the judicial authorities in Equatorial Guinea to respect the rights of all artists, human rights defenders, activists, and, more generally, all individuals in Equatorial Guinea who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association without fear of being harassed or prosecuted.
To this end, we urge you to order Mr. Ebalé's immediate and unconditional release from prison.
Thank you for your consideration.
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Member of the House of Lords, President of JUSTICE
Cartoonist Rights Network International
Committee to Protect Journalists
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
Reporters Without Borders
The Doughty Street International Media Defense Panel
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Above all, Ramon is a cartoonist committed to his work and to freedom for his country. He has always seen himself as a voice—though his art—for thousands of people in Equatorial Guinea who still live in a country in which basic fundamental rights are systematically violated.
My husband is in prison because he dared to speak up through his art. He dared to depict President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea as a common man. He dared to show people in his country that they, too, could laugh at the absurdities of a callous regime that is supported by the West—yes, even by the United States of America.
Nothing would make Ramon happier today than knowing that you are all thinking about and honoring him with your presence here.
Actually, there are three things that perhaps would make him even happier:
1. First, calling on your government to demand Ramon's immediate release could help secure his freedom.
2. Second, a delegation of you, visiting the Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea at the United Nations—where Equatorial Guinea will be assuming a seat at the Security Council—to ask for his immediate release, could also help tremendously.
3. Third, a delegation from this room, traveling to Equatorial Guinea and demanding to visit with Ramon in prison, would send a very strong message to the regime in Equatorial Guinea that the world is watching.
I implore you to consider taking action if you can. Not only would the international support of fellow cartoonists make Ramon very happy, but it could make a difference in his future, in our family's future, and in the future of Equatorial Guinea.
Despite being in jail, my husband continues to draw beautiful images. Without his pencils and markers, without paper, and behind bars, Ramon continues to draw with his words the meaning of freedom, the meaning of democracy, the meaning of justice. Every message I have received from Ramon confirms that he is not giving up on any of these values. We too cannot give up on these principles, and we cannot give up on him.
Thank you for honoring and fighting for Ramon. Your solidarity means the world to us.
Eloísa Vaello MarcoSpeaking at Hofstra University, New York, November 4th, 2017