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Prisoners tell of torture hell awaiting Mann Print
Jon Swain - May 13, 2007

TWO former prisoners have given grim accounts of savage beatings they received from guards at the notorious African jail where Simon Mann, the former Scots Guards officer and SAS troop commander, risks seeing out his days.

He is facing possible extradition from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea to face charges of planning to overthrow and assassinate its strongman ruler.
“The first 10 days, we were tied down with our hands behind our backs. Only when they brought us food would they release us,” said Mark Schmidt.

“In those days they would beat us. One soldier would hold us at gunpoint and the other would beat us up, also with the back of a firearm. They were all drunk. They would burn things under my feet. They said we were going to die tomorrow.”

Schmidt is a South African who was arrested in Equatorial Guinea in 2004 and accused of being part of Mann’s mercenary plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Nguema has ruled the tiny oil-rich west African state with an iron fist since he ousted and executed his uncle in 1979.

Schmidt is now back in South Africa after spending 8½ months in prison.

Others arrested in Equatorial Guinea with him for involvement in the botched coup, which was partly funded by Sir Mark Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher’s son, were less fortunate. The South African Nick du Toit is serving 34 years, and a German prisoner died.

“Gerhard [Merz] was sick and weak,” said Schmidt. “He was not the youngest, and when they were beating him he never said a word. They took him from the cell and we never saw him again. The beating stopped after Gerhard died. They said that the cause of death was malaria, but I don’t believe that. I think his death gave them a fright.”

Nguema has been determined to have Mann extradited. The Old Etonian was convicted in Zimbabwe of an arms offence relating to the coup.

Released last week after serving his sentence, Mann was rearrested. Before he could be deported to Equatorial Guinea he appealed to the High Court. It will give a ruling this week.

Mann, who is 54 and needs medical treatment, has said he fears he will die or be condemned to life in Black Beach prison if he loses the appeal.

Jose Ole Obono, Equatorial Guinea’s attorney-general, said last week that the charges against Mann were “very, very serious”. A lawyer for the government said it would “take great pains” to ensure good conditions of detention for Mann and an open and fair trial presided over by an African Union judge from another country. Mann would not face the death penalty but could face 30 years in jail.

The government says the old prison has been demolished. “Today this prison resembles a five-star hotel,” Nguema said in an interview late last year. “Everything has been redone, the cells, the paintwork, the yards, to enable rehabilitation. The prisoners are happy, including the mercenaries.”

Weja Chicampo, an Equatorial Guinean political campaigner, spent 27 months in Black Beach until his release in mid 2006. He describes being thrown into a dark cell, hands tied and feet shackled after being beaten.

“Prisoners are tortured and just disappear and die,” he said. “They weight their bodies with rocks and throw them in the sea. Their families never know what happened to them.”

Ties between oil-rich Equatorial Guinea and cash-strapped Zimbabwe have blossomed since the coup plot. Mann’s fate may be sealed by Mugabe’s need for oil. Equatorial Guinea has agreed to supply Zimbabwe with oil at a preferential rate.
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