Equatoguinean magazine editor's hunger strike for freedom, 2011

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Time Period:  
February 11,
February 18,
Location and Goals
Equatorial Guinea
Location City/State/Province: 
To protest against the regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and to encourage other Equatoguineans to rise up and demand change.

The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is a small country in Middle Africa that was a colony of Spain (Spanish Guinea) until 1968. Since a violent military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang has ruled the country with the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea. In 2008, journalist Peter Maas called Obiang “Africa’s Worst Dictator” due to rampant corruption within the government and accusations from human rights groups of murder and torture.

Protests have been rare in Equatorial Guinea, but on February 11, 2011, Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, the Equatoguinean blogger and editor of the magazine Atanga, began a hunger strike to protest against Obiang’s repressive regime. Ávila also wrote a letter to José Bono Martínez, president of the Spanish Parliament, and asked the Spanish government to put pressure on the Equatoguinean government for reforms. Ávila had previously written novels, essays, and more, criticizing the government of Equatorial Guinea, but had never engaged in such a singular and widely publicized campaign before. Ávila was inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and hoped to encourage change in Equatorial Guinea.

Ávila continued his hunger strike until February 14, 2011, when he announced his departure to Spain after being “harassed” about his hunger strike. Ávila did not specify who had harassed him, but intended to continue his hunger strike in Spain.

On February 16, the Equatoguinean Government Minister Spokesman Jerónimo Osa Osa Ecoro issued a statement that claimed that Ávila was “barely known in this country, and has no followers, nor do his actions have or have had any type of relevance.” Ecoro also pointed out that Ávila was perfectly free to express his views however he wished, and defended the government’s programs, saying that Equatorial Guinea was experiencing a peak in development.

Outside activists did their part to help Ávila. For example, on February 11, one activist formed the Facebook group “Apoyo a Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel” to spread the word about the hunger strike and the general movement for freedom in Equatorial Guinea. The group has over 2,000 members. On February 14, a different activist created a global online petition to the U.S. government to pressure the government of Equatorial Guinea. The petition has over 150 signatures from several countries.

On February 18, Ávila decided to end his hunger strike in Spain, saying in an interview that it “makes no sense to continue a protest that has lost its essence.” However, the Facebook group and petition are still active, and Ávila continues to advance the movement for freedom in Equatorial Guinea. Protests have broken out in Equatorial Guinea, but it is unclear whether the protests were directly related to Ávila’s hunger strike campaign. The government has banned protests and restricted information from Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries with revolutionary movements.

Research Notes

Ávila was inspired by the revolution in Tunisia (1).

"Apoyo a Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel." Facebook. 24 Apr. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_193089854054295>.

"Blogger and Magazine Editor Starts Hunger Strike to Protest against Lack of Freedom." IFEX. 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.ifex.org/equatorial_guinea/2011/02/17/avila_strike/>.

"Equatoguinean Writer Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel in a Hunger Strike Needs Your Help!" Alternavox. 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.alternavox.net/equatoguinean-writer-juan-tomas-avila-laurel-in-a-hunger-strike-needs-your-help>.

"Equatoguinean Writer Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel Initiates Hunger Strike." EG Justice. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.egjustice.org/?q=equatoguinean-writer-juan-tom%C3%A1s-%C3%A1vila-laurel-initiates-hunger-strike>.

"Equatorial Guinea: Blogger, Literary Magazine Editor Protests against Lack of Freedom." BizCommunity.com. 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://africa.bizcommunity.com/Article/412/466/56859.html>.

"Equatorial Guinea: Writer Ends Hunger Strike." WikiNoticia.com. 05 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://en.wikinoticia.com/lifestyle/social-criticism/78318-equatorial-guinea-writer-ends-hunger-strike>.

Maass, Peter. "Why Don't We Hear More about Equatorial Guinea? - By Peter Maass." Slate Magazine. 24 June 2008. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.slate.com/id/2193870/>.

"Police Troops Stop Equatorial Guinea Protests." Ocnus.net. 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.ocnus.net/artman2/publish/Africa_8/Police-Troops-Stop-Equatorial-Guinea-Protests.shtml>.

Toasijé, Antumi. "Abandona Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel La Huelga De Hambre Por La Democracia En Guinea Ecuatorial." Wanafrika.org. 20 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.wanafrika.org/2011/02/abandona-juan-tomas-avila-laurel-la.html>.

Additional Notes: 
Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel is broadly working for freedom in Equatorial Guinea, but this hunger strike was a specific campaign that is part of a larger movement.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jennifer Trinh, 24/04/2011