‘Mercenaries’ Court Case Won’t Be Any Time Soon’

‘Mercenaries’ Court Case Won’t Be Any Time Soon’

Sunday Times (Johannesburg)
April 11, 2004
Posted to the web April 11, 2004

By Julian Rademeyer

Fourteen men accused of planning to overthrow the president of
Equatorial Guinea will remain behind bars in the West African
country’s notorious Black Beach prison until an investigation into the
alleged mercenary plot has been completed – a process that could take

The alleged mercenaries, among them seven South Africans and six
Armenians, have been imprisoned for more than a month without access
to lawyers. They have yet to appear in court.

One mercenary, German national Gerhard Eugen Nershz, died on March 16.

Cerebral malaria was officially cited as the cause of death but there
have been persistent claims that he was savagely tortured. At least
two prisoners are believed to have been treated for malaria.

In an interview this week with the Sunday Times in the country’s tiny
island capital of Malabo, Justice Minister Ruben Maye Nsue Mangue
said: “They will appear in court when the charges are prepared. They
will be charged after the completion of the investigation… It will
be some time.”

Maye said two “Russian” prisoners (a reference to the Armenians) and
not two South Africans, as reported earlier this week, had been

“I understand there were two Russian pilots admitted to hospital and
not South Africans. But now everybody is okay. Nobody is in hospital,”
he said.

Government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two
foreigners had been treated for malaria in the Malabo General

Maye said a Red Cross representative visited the men in prison this

“All I want you to transmit to the families of the men is that their
loved ones are under the protection of the rule of human rights.

“Equatorial Guinea today is not the Equatorial Guinea of the 1960s
during the Spanish colonial period or the 1970s during the
dictatorship. We are trying to observe fundamental human
rights. .. Your people have been visited this week by the
International Red Cross. We are not torturing them.”

The Red Cross was not available for comment.

Maye said he found the “deep concern” expressed by South African
government officials and Amnesty International about the conditions in
which the men were being held disturbing.

“What worries us is the silence among people about the outrage of this
plot – and their deep concern for these men. We will take as good care
of them as our resources permit. They will have their day in court.”

Last week, South Africa’s deputy head of the National Prosecuting
Authority, Jan Henning, a member of a delegation which visited the
South Africans in custody, said the South African government should
not accede to requests from Equatorial Guinea’s government for
assistance in prosecuting the men.

“We cannot be seen to assist with a court process that does not comply
with our respect for human rights. .. At the end of the day, there is
a possibility they could be executed,” he said.

“Basic values we have that persons arrested must be brought before
court within 48 hours, a right to legal access – those values are
obviously not recognised there,” added Henning.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Equatorial Guinea’ s Minister of
Information, Agustin Nse-Nfumu, dismissed Henning’s remarks as

“How do you want them to be taken to court when we are still
investigating? There are things I don’t understand.”

Referring to Henning’s comments that the delegation felt “unwelcome
and unsafe” in the country, Nse-Nfumu said : ” I think the way he
behaved does not correspond with his status. .. If we didn’t want him
to be welcome, I don’t see why we’d invite him.”