Equatorial Guinea pursues Briton over coup attempt
Former SAS officer Simon Mann. Photograph: AP
· Zimbabwe magistrate orders extradition
David Pallister and Andrew Meldrum in South Africa
Thursday May 10, 2007
three years spent languishing in a Zimbabwean prison, the British
mercenary Simon Mann was hoping to win his freedom this week, his
sentence cut short for good behaviour.
Yesterday, however, the Old Etonian's predicament took a substantial turn for the worse.
magistrate in Harare ruled that he should be extradited to Equatorial
Guinea, the west African nation that was the focus of the alleged coup
plotted by Mann and his team of armed conspirators.
The court's decision, which came despite protests from his lawyer that
he could face torture and a rigged trial, was viewed by observers as an
"oil for Mann" deal. President Robert Mugabe announced in March that
Zimbabwe was receiving shipments of oil from the Equatorial Guinea
president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Since the failed coup the two
tyrants have become best friends.
54, cuts an exotic figure. The former British special forces officer is
the son of an England cricket captain and is a close friend of Sir Mark
Thatcher, who was also convicted in South Africa of taking part in the
Mann will appeal against the extradition ruling. His
lawyers are likely to cite the appalling conditions awaiting him at the
grim fortress of Black Beach prison.
Amnesty International and
the US state department both have the same description of the jail.
"Conditions at Black Beach prison in the capital, Malabo, were life
threatening," they said in reports last year.
Inmates are forced
to wear ankle shackles 24 hours a day. Many are at risk of starvation
if they do not have families to provide for them and medical treatment
is either spasmodic or non-existent. Torture - burning and beating the
soles of the feet - is reportedly routine.
"Since at least early
January 2007 the prison authorities have not provided medical treatment
to prisoners," Amnesty reported. "Medical personnel have not been
allowed to visit the prison nor have the prisoners been taken for
treatment to hospital or to see a doctor outside the prison. In
addition, the prison authorities do not provide medicines to those who
One of the alleged plotters, the German national
Gerhard Eugen Nershz, died a few days after being taken to Black Beach.
The authorities said he had contracted cerebral malaria. He was taken
to hospital from the prison some hours before his death and witnesses
reported that he appeared to have severe injuries caused by torture on
his hands and feet. An opposition activist, Weja Chicampo, who was
arrested at the same time, said later he had been so badly beaten he
could not eat properly; he was left in handcuffs without water so he
had to drink his own urine.
Mann was convicted in September 2004
of attempting to buy weapons without a licence after he landed in
Harare with a group of 69, mainly South African, mercenaries. More than
two dozen associates were arrested at the same time in Malabo.
claimed that he was en route to guard a mine in the Democratic Republic
of Congo but the men arrested with him served less than one year in
jail after pleading guilty to charges of violating Zimbabwe's
immigration and civil aviation laws.
In yesterday's hearing at
Chikurubi maximum security prison where Mann had been held, magistrate
Omega Mugumbate rejected arguments by his lawyer, Jonathan Samkange,
that he would not receive a fair trial in Equatorial Guinea.
extradition application is not prohibited in terms of the law," said Ms
Mugumbate. "[The] respondent did not prove charges of torture while
[the] applicant provided a prima facie case against respondent. It is
hereby ordered that respondent be extradited to Equatorial Guinea," she
During the extradition hearing Mann said that he
should not go to Equatorial Guinea because he believes the authorities
there will torture and kill him. Mr Samkange argued that international
law bars the extradition of people indicted in political trials or
facing possible torture.
"It would be a very sad day if Zimbabwe
were to extradite a man against all international conventions," he said
in his closing arguments last week.
Equatorial Guinea's attorney
general, Jose Ole Obono, told the hearing that although his government
believed Mann was the "intellectual head" of the alleged plot, he would
get justice. Zimbabwean state lawyers, assisting the Equatorial Guinean
officials, made several assurances that Mann would be treated fairly
and that his trial would be heard by a judge appointed by the African
Union. The Zimbabweans also vowed that Equatorial Guinea would not
impose the death sentence if Mann is found guilty.
was decided by Mugabe's need for oil, not by the legal arguments," a
legal expert in Harare told the Guardian yesterday. "As soon as we
started getting shipments of oil from Equatorial Guinea, Mann's
extradition was assured."
If Mann is taken to Malabo he will join
the five South African plotters who remain in Black Beach, including
his main associate, the former South African soldier Nick du Toit. They
are serving up to 34 years and have complained of poor food, constant
shackling, lack of medical help and, in the first weeks, repeated
Of the more than 80 men convicted of the coup plot only six remain in prison: Simon Mann
in Zimbabwe and five South Africans in Equatorial Guinea. All the other
69 mercenaries arrested with Mann at Harare international airport
served less than one year in jail after pleading guilty to charges of
violating Zimbabwe's immigration and civil aviation laws.
Equatorial Guinea, six Armenian aircrew, allegedly part of the
conspiracy, were given a presidential pardon. Five others, including
Mann's main co-conspirator, Nick du Toit, are serving up to 34 years in the notorious Black Beach prison.
In 2005, Sir Mark Thatcher
pleaded guilty in South Africa to helping to finance the sale of a
helicopter to be used in the attack. In a plea bargain he was fined and
given a four-year suspended sentence. But most of the other figures
behind the coup attempt escaped, including the exiled politician Severo Moto. Lord Archer has not confirmed if he was the JH Archer who donated $135,000 to Mann's account.