Africa|Gas|Oil And Gas|Oil-and-gas|Projects|System
Africa|Gas|Oil And Gas|Oil-and-gas|Projects|System

Families of two engineers launch petition to free them from Equatorial Guinea

12th June 2024

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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

Huxham and Potgieter have been caught in the political crossfire between South Africa and Equatorial Guinea. They were arrested two days after South Africa seized the luxury super yacht belonging to Equatorial Guinea VP Teodore Nguema Obiang Mangue. South Africa had also seized his two luxury Cape Town villas in Clifton and Bishops Court.

The engineers had been working in the country for their employer, the oil and gas company SBM Offshore, and had been scheduled to return home to South Africa after a five-week work rotation.

Huxham had been employed by the company for 15 years and Potgieter for 11 years, but they had never met before their arrest and had been working on separate projects and vessels.

The engineers were arrested by the Equatorial Guinean police on fabricated drug trafficking charges. During their court case in June 2023, it was alleged that drugs had been found in their luggage.

However, their luggage, which was combination-locked and unopened, was in their rooms five days after their arrest when their employer collected them in the presence of hotel management and the local police, spokespersons for the engineers' families said.

Nguema’s assets were seized following a court ruling in South Africa on a separate matter, unrelated to Huxham and Potgieter. This incited his outrage against South Africa, as evident in his social media posts at that time.

Even though the super yacht has been released, the villas remain impounded in South Africa, and the two engineers remain in prison in Equatorial Guinea.

“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. To do that, the families need the South African and UK governments to do all they can to get them released,” said Huxham family spokesperson Francois Nigrini.

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

“The campaign calls on all parties to assist in securing Frik and Peter’s freedom, but especially on the South African government and the UK government, as Peter is a dual citizen of that country.

“We were hopeful when Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor visited Equatorial Guinea on May 5, 2024, to plead for the men’s release, but since then there has been no movement,” he said.

Pandor visited Equatorial Guinea on May 5 to plead for the release of Huxham and Potgieter, and met with her counterpart Equatorial Guinea Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Diaspora Simeon Oyono Esono Angue, as well as the President of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who is Nguema’s father.

On her return to South Africa, Pandor 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,” the statement said.

Huxham and Potgieter each received a 12-year prison sentence and were fined $5-million each.

These extreme sentences are a violation of Equatorial Guinea’s new Criminal Code, which provides for a maximum sentencing period of three years and were based on outdated laws.

Following their arrest, SBM Offshore immediately assembled an international team of experts to defend Huxham and Potgieter, and to provide daily support to the families.

The international team of experts is working tirelessly to secure their release, having submitted a case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, with its decision due any day.

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.

The engineers' families believe their arrest and detentions are both arbitrary under the UN’s Human Rights law.

“Frik and Peter are professionals with exemplary records in the oil and gas industry. They were sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit, and remain there to this day.

“We are uniting through this campaign to show South Africa and our own government that our voices for bringing our family members home will never fall silent.

“Frik and Peter’s families are anxiously awaiting any news that will help bring them home safely,” Nigrini and Murphy said.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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