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    Wednesday, June 12, 2024

    Families of Two South Africans Unlawfully Held in Equatorial Guinea Launch Free Frik and Peter Campaign to Demand their Urgent Release


    Today, the families of Frik Potgieter (54) and Peter Huxham (55), two innocent South African engineers who have been unlawfully held as state hostages in Equatorial Guinea since 9 February 2023, launched an online petition, website and social media campaign to share their story and demand their urgent release.


    Frik and Peter are caught in the political crossfire between South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, a country on the west coast of Africa.  They were working in that country for their employer, a global oil and gas company, when they were arrested on fabricated drug charges 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, unrelated to Frik and Peter.  Even though the super yacht has been released, the villas remain impounded in South Africa, and Frik and Peter remain in prison in Equatorial Guinea.


    Shaun Murphy, spokesperson for the Potgieter family, says: “There is no doubt that they are innocent, and no doubt that their arrests are aimed at forcing South Africa to release the Vice President’s properties.  This is clear from his outrage against South Africa on Twitter / X when Frik and Peter were arrested.


    “The campaign is intended to call on all parties to assist in securing Frik and Peter’s freedom, but most especially the assistance of the South African government, and also the UK government, as Peter is a dual citizen of that country. We were hopeful when Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation visited Equatorial Guinea on 5 May 2024 to plead for the men’s release, but since then there has been no movement.


    "No family should have to go through this nightmare of having their loved ones held hostage in a foreign prison or being used as political pawns. That's why we're uniting together through this campaign to show South Africa and our own government that our voices for bringing our family members home will never fall silent."


    At the centre of the campaign is the website www.freefrikandpeter.co.za which serves as a hub for information on their case, and includes an online petition calling for decisive action from the South African Government. The campaign will also maintain an active presence across major social media platforms, including Facebook, X and LinkedIn, using the hashtag #freeFrikandPeter.


    Frik and Peter’s tragic story

    On the night of 9 February 2023, Frik and Peter checked into their hotel in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. These two engineers were scheduled to return home to South Africa the next morning after a five-week work rotation for their employer, SBM Offshore.

     

    That evening, Frik and Peter were separately summoned to the hotel reception, unaware that they were about to be arrested by the Equatorial Guinean police on fabricated drug trafficking charges.  They were innocent, yet their lives were about to be turned upside down.

     

    Unbeknownst to Frik and Peter, their arrest followed South Africa's seizure of luxury assets belonging to Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President, Teodore Nguema Obiang Mangue (known as Teddy).  Just two days before Frik and Peter were arrested, South Africa had impounded his super yacht.  Prior to this, South Africa had seized two of his luxury villas in Clifton and Bishops Court in Cape Town.  The seizures followed a court ruling in South Africa on a separate matter, unrelated to Frik and Peter.  This incited Teddy’s outrage against South Africa, as evident in his social media posts at that time.

     

    Even though the super yacht was subsequently released, the villas remain impounded, and Frik and Peter remain in prison.


    For his 5-week rotation break back in South Africa, Peter was planning to compete in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, kite-surf, help his partner, Kathy, build their new home, and spend time with his family.  Frik had his sights set on fishing, helping his daughter arrange her wedding, and doing maintenance to their family home.


    Instead, they were sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit, and remain there to this day. 

     

    Frik and Peter are political pawns, being held as state hostages in retaliation for South Africa’s seizure of the Vice President of Equatorial Guinea’s luxury assets. They are caught in the diplomatic cross-fire between South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.

     

    Esteemed professionals with exemplary records in the oil and gas industry, Frik and Peter were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are beloved fathers, partners, grandfathers, and pillars of both their families and their communities.  For their families, every passing day without them is an eternity of missed moments and cherished memories that can never be regained. Their loved ones want them to come home.

     

    Though employed by the same company for 11 and 15 years respectively, Frik and Peter had never met before their arrest and were working on separate projects and vessels.

     

    Their ‘court case’ in June 2023 in Equatorial Guinea was a farce. No credible evidence, witnesses, or expert testimonies were presented to the court by the State, nor was any proof presented that the alleged drugs were found on the two men, or that indeed they were drugs. It was alleged that the drugs were found in their luggage, however, their luggage, combination-locked and unopened, was still in their rooms five days later, when their employer collected them in the presence of hotel management and the local police.


    Frik and Peter each received a 12-year prison sentence and were fined USD $5 million each. These extreme sentences are a violation of Equatorial Guinea’s new Criminal Code, which provides for a maximum sentencing period of 3 years, and were based on outdated laws.


    Their employer immediately assembled an international team of experts to ensure Frik and Peter’s defence, and to provide daily support to the families.


    The families, through their legal team, lodged an appeal against the court proceedings and the excessive sentences. However, no further action has been taken by the Equatorial Guinea government or justice system regarding the appeal.

    Frik and Peter’s families believe their arrest and detentions are both arbitrary, under the UN’s Human Rights law, and a violation of the UN Hostage Convention

    • Article 1 of the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, 1979, states: “Any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure or to continue to detain another person (hereafter referred to as the “hostage”) in order to compel a third party, namely, a State, … to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage commits the offense of taking of hostages (“hostage-taking”) within the meaning of this Convention.”  Both South Africa and Equatorial Guinea are parties to the UN Hostage Convention.  In other words, country one (Equatorial Guinea) may not arrest the citizens of country two (South Africa) in order to compel the latter to do something (give back the Vice President’s seized properties). 

    The international team of experts is working tirelessly to secure Frik and Peter’s release, having submitted a case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), with its decision due any day.

     

    Arbitrary detention breaches fundamental human rights, including the right to liberty and security, as upheld by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

     

    The prolonged absence of Frik and Peter is devastating for their families. Jolene, Frik’s daughter, was due to get married in 2023.  Her Dad was helping her plan her wedding before the arrest, and without him there to walk her down the aisle, she’s been forced to put her plans on hold. 

     

    It is also an excruciating situation for Frik and Peter, not only because they are innocent, but also because they both suffer from chronic illnesses.  They have each lost some 25kg since they were jailed. During the time that they’ve been in prison in Equatorial Guinea, both have also lost family members and friends, with whom they were very close. There has virtually been no contact with their families over the past 16 months.

     

    The South African Department of International Relations (DIRCO’s) consular desk has managed to arrange just three visits by its officials in Equatorial Guinea to the men since their arrests, and two calls to each of their partners.  Another visit was arranged by the UK High Commissioner, where Peter was granted a brief call to his life partner of 30 years, Kathy.  Peter asked Kathy to marry him on that call.  She obviously said yes.  Peter is a dual SA and UK citizen.

     

    Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963 expressly states that countries be granted access to detainees in other countries.  Again, both Equatorial Guinea and South Africa are signatories to the Convention, however, despite numerous requests by the South African consular authorities, Equatorial Guinea has restricted consular visits and access to defence lawyers to Frik and Peter, in breach of the Vienna Convention.


    On 5 May 2024, Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation for South Africa, visited Equatorial Guinea to plead for the release of Frik and Peter. She met with her counterpart, Simeon Oyono Esono Angue, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Diaspora, as well as Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the President of Equatorial Guinea (Teddy’s father). 


    On her return to South Africa, the Minister released a short statement, which said: “Minister Pandor took advantage of her presence in Equatorial Guinea to raise with the authorities South Africa’s concerns regarding the incarceration of two South African citizens in the country. The Minister reiterated South Africa’s plea to the government of Equatorial Guinea for the release of the incarcerated South African citizens. Engagements on this matter are continuing.”


    Frik and Peter’s families are anxiously awaiting any news that will help bring them home safely.  


    “The reality is that given that this is a political dispute between South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, only a political solution will secure their release.   They must be brought home, and in order to do that, the families need the South African and UK governments to do all they can to get them released,” says Francois Nigrini, spokesperson for the Huxham family. 


    Frik and Peter need your help.  Their story needs to be heard. Please sign this petition to demand their immediate release.

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