UN calls for South African engineers to be freed in Equatorial Guinea

South African engineer, Peter Huxham, and his colleague, Frik Potgieter, face a harrowing ordeal in Equatorial Guinea’s Mongomo Prison.

South African engineer, Peter Huxham, and his colleague, Frik Potgieter, face a harrowing ordeal in Equatorial Guinea’s Mongomo Prison.

Published Jul 6, 2024


Cape Town - While two South African engineers have spent more than 500 days imprisoned in Equatorial Guinea, the UN is calling for their immediate release.

In a document referred to as a Formal Opinion by the UN’s Working Group Arbitrary Detention, they said the detention was arbitrary and illegal.

Frik Potgieter, 54, from George and Peter Huxham, 55, from Langebaan have only been able to speak with their family three times in the 508 days they have been imprisoned.

The duo were sentenced for drug trafficking charges and last month their families began an online petition calling for them to be set free.

In a statement shared this week, the men’s media representatives said the UN decision is a material finding that confirmed Potgieter and Huxham’s innocence, and that their ongoing detention in Equatorial Guinea is a grave violation of international human rights conventions.

They added that Equatorial Guinea was a signatory to the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

“Arbitrary detention occurs when someone is arrested and detained by a government without due process and without the legal protections of a fair trial, or when an individual is detained without any legal basis for deprivation of liberty. Arbitrary detention, in essence, is unlawful detention,” they said.

Francois Nigrini and Shaun Murphy, spokespersons for the Huxham and Potgieter families, said they continued to believe the duo would be freed.

“There has never been a shred of doubt about Frik and Peter’s innocence. The families, Frik and Peter’s employer and the South African government have always believed in their innocence,” they added.

“As families, we believe their arrests were in retaliation for South African courts having seized the luxury properties and super yacht belonging to the vice-president of Equatorial Guinea, the latter just two days prior to Frik and Peter’s arrest. We have also known that their arrests and detention are illegal, and so feel deeply vindicated by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s declaration.

“There should never be a time when one country condones the unlawful action taken against citizens of another country, and we will be leaning firmly on both South Africa and the UK to take firm, decisive and immediate action to release the men.

“Frik and Peter’s unlawful and illegal arrest in that country shows that there is scant regard for human rights and the rule of law.

“They are innocent pawns in an international spat between two countries, and have suffered great hardship for almost 17 months as a consequence. It’s time that their suffering, and the time stolen from their lives, ends and they are brought back home to their families in South Africa.

“With this important and ground-breaking decision from the United Nations, we now strongly urge all involved, including governments, the oil majors (Chevron and ExxonMobil) whom Frik and Peter ultimately worked for in Equatorial Guinea, civil society and the international community at large, to steeply accelerate their efforts to bring them home.

“Their freedom is not just a legal obligation; it is a moral imperative.”

They said in addition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions ruling, the families have requested the formal assistance of the Pan-African Parliament to secure the men’s release.

A formal request was handed over to the Presidency of the Pan-African Parliament on June 24, 2024, asking the institution to intervene to secure the men’s urgent release and their petition also submitted.

They (families) also held a peaceful protest outside the Parliament.

The Pan-African Parliament is the legislative and oversight arm of the African Union, based in Midrand, South Africa.

The men’s family are adamant that they are innocent and are caught in the political crossfire between South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, - and that the charges against them were fabricated just two days after South Africa seized the luxury super yacht belonging to Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President, Teodore Nguema Obiang Mangue (known as Teddy).

Earlier, South Africa had also seized the vice-president’s two luxury Cape Town villas.

The vice president of Equatorial Guinea’s assets were seized following a court ruling in South Africa on a separate matter.

The family said despite the super yacht being released, the villas remain impounded in South Africa, and Frik and Peter remain in prison.

The men were sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment and fined $5 million each.

Their families have since lodged an appeal against the court’s decision and are awaiting feedback on their appeal.

The super yacht belonging to Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President, Teodore Nguema Obiang Mangue (known as Teddy). Photographer: Armand Hough. African News Agency (ANA)

Previously the Weekend Argus reported that Obiang claimed the yacht had belonged to the military but that it was listed as a treasure craft that sails under the Cayman Islands’ flag.

The article further stated the vessel was seized in Cape Town in adherence to an attachment order, seen by the newspaper and that on February 7, 2023, in relation to Daniel Janse van Rensburg’s ongoing lawsuit against Obiang.

It was related to outstanding damages awarded to him after a court battle for his incarceration at Black Beach prison between 2013 and 2015.

The Weekend Argus also reached out to Dirco, the Department of International Relation and Cooperation’s Clayson Monyela and Lunga Ngqengelele, on the latest developments but they did not respond.