GENEVA - Four men sentenced to death after a summary trial in Equatorial Guinea on coup charges were executed the day after a team of U.N. human rights investigators left the country, one of the investigators said on Wednesday.
Pakistani lawyer Faiza Patel told reporters the five-member team, which she headed, had not been allowed to see the men, all former exiles from the West African country apparently abducted from neighbouring Benin.
The wording of a report by the team for the U.N. Human Rights Council left little doubt that they were unconvinced by government assertions the four were involved in a reported attack in the capital, Malabo, in Feb. 2009.
"We were not allowed to see these men," said Patel, whose team included experts from Chile, Spain, Poland and South Africa and was in Equatorial Guinea from Aug. 16-20 last year. "The day after we left, they were executed."
The three former army officers and a civilian were accused by the administration of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in whose country big global energy firms operate, of an attack on the head of state, treason and terrorism.
They were sentenced after a two-day military trial and executed within hours of the verdict, the report said. "They had no opportunity to exercise their right to appeal," it added, or to see their families before the executions.
The prosecution linked them to what the government says was a speedboat assault on Obiang's palace but the U.N. team's report said details were scarce on the incident, which the government says involved foreign mercenaries.
The U.N. investigators, a working group on the use of mercenaries, said they had received information in Malabo "that the alleged attack amounted to a mere few gunshots" and that the attackers left promptly and were never caught.
MANY ALLEGED COUP BIDS
Their report said that since 1979, when Obiang took power by ousting a predecessor who had ruled for 11 years and been accused by foreign monitors of gross rights violations, there had been many reported coup attempts.
But it added: "It is unclear how many were real and how many were simply alleged by the authorities, partly as a pretext to crack down on the political opposition."
The report accepted that there had been a plot involving foreign mercenaries to overthrow the government in 2004 -- an incident which brought international attention to Equatorial Guinea, an ex-Spanish colony also exploiting gas reserves.
But it said it remained unclear who had financed and organised the affair, which was followed by trials of some of the mercenaries. However one, South African Simon Mann, was now reported working as an adviser to Obiang, the U.N. team said.
The 2009 "speedboat" incident was followed by widespread arrests of government opponents, but the four exiles from Benin appeared in a Malabo jail only in early 2010, the report said.
According to information they had received, the U.N. team said, they may have been abducted by Malabo agents or by mercenaries hired by the government, which refused to clarify for the investigators how this had happened.
The team's report said in recent years there had been many abductions from neighbouring states of Equatorial Guineans, who were moved to jails, often in secret, in their home country.