Cartoonist freed in E Guinea after 5 months behind bars

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Libreville - A cartoonist who was held in custody for more than five months in Equatorial Guinea was released on Wednesday, an NGO said.

Ramon Esono Ebale, who works under the pseudonym "Ham and Cheese", was arrested for works "that regularly criticise the government of Equatorial Guinea", the African Union previously said.

Confirming his release, director of the US-based rights group EG Justice, Tutu Alicante, said in a statement: "The release of Ramon is proof of the power of the collective work of hundreds of artists, concerned citizens and NGOs."

On February 27 at the start of his trial in capital Malabo public prosecutor Rafael Ondo Nguema asked for the release of Ebale, saying there was a "lack of clear evidence".

Ebale was arrested in mid-September with the government announcing his detention was for "money laundering and forgery". They alleged a million CFA francs in counterfeit money (1,500 euros) was found at his home.

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"They stuck on this motive... so that I spent five months in jail," said Ebale at the time.

"I do not know anything about money, but I know they arrested me for my cartoons," he said.

Originally from Equatorial Guinea, Ebale had been living in Paraguay before he returned to renew his passport and was arrested.

According to EG Justice, the arrest of Ebale was linked to the publication of a graphic novel in May 2016 called "Obi's nightmare" after President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The publication portrays Obiang as an ordinary Guinean citizen, and highlights the lack of access to electricity, healthcare and education and restriction of freedom of expression in Equatorial Guinea.

Obiang has ruled the oil-rich central African nation since he seized power in 1979.

Despite the discovery of considerable oil reserves in 1996, most of Equatorial Guinea's 1.2 million inhabitants still live in poverty.

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