Two SA engineers held on trumped-up charges in Equatorial Guinea: first family contact made after 7 months

First personal contact made with SA engineer held in Equatorial Guinea prison

  • Two SA engineers held on trumped-up charges.  They are victims of a political vendetta, and so their release requires a political solution
  • Plus: a marriage proposal over the phone

South Africa, 3 October 2023 The family of Peter Huxham, one of the two South African engineers being held unlawfully in prison in Equatorial Guinea, spoke to Peter via cellphone for the first time since he was arrested on 9 February 2023. The call was arranged via the UK High Commission to Cameroon who secured an official visit to see Peter, on the basis that he holds both SA and UK citizenship.

Unfortunately, the family of Peter’s colleague, Frik Potgieter who is being held in the same cell at Mongomo Prison, was not permitted to speak to his family as Frik only has SA citizenship and the UK High Commission was only granted permission by Equatorial Guinea to meet with Peter.

Frik Potgieter and Peter Huxham are both highly experienced, professional engineers who were working for the Dutch company SBM Offshore in Equatorial Guinea when they were arrested at their hotel in Malabo on the evening of 9 February 2023 on trumped-up allegations of drug-related charges. They were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment, as well as being ordered to pay $5M USD (R93,7 million) each in damages with an additional $2.5M USD (R46,8 million) fine to be shared between them. 

The matter is currently being appealed by Potgieter and Huxham’s lawyers.  

There have been widespread reports that the arrests of Frik and Peter are linked to the seizure of a superyacht and luxury properties in Cape Town, owned by the Vice President of Equatorial Guinea, who is the President’s son.  The superyacht was seized by the SA courts just days before the two men were arrested.

Francois Nigrini, spokesperson for the Huxham family said this is a clear indication that this is a political matter, which requires a political solution, and that they are victims of trumped-up charges. 

On Thursday 14 September 2023, Peter Huxham’s life partner of 30 years, Kathy McConnachie was at home in Langebaan when she received the unexpected call from the representative of the UK High Commission to Cameroon, who said he was with Peter, and would she like to speak to him.

Francois Nigrini, spokesperson for the Huxham family, explained the call as follows:

“Kathy was completely shocked to receive the call, and as you can imagine it was very emotional, since she hasn’t spoken to Peter for 7 months. There was so much to share and she didn’t know how long the call would be. In the end, the call was 21 minutes long. She did find out that Peter and Frik are sharing a cell, and that despite having never met each other before the day of their arrest, they feel they are now brothers as they together endure the terrible and unjust situation they find themselves in. Peter assured her that while he and Frik have lost an enormous amount of weight, they are receiving two meals a day and are allowed out of their cell for 2 hours a day to get some fresh air and exercise. They also have access to medication. This was an enormous relief to both families, but it does not alleviate the overwhelming anxiety and pain they live with every day as there is no indication if Peter and Frik will be freed and can return home.

“Peter said he and Frik have written letters to their families every day since their arrest, but Kathy confirmed to him that not a single one has been delivered to them. 

“Kathy was also able to share an update with Peter about the dream house they had started building together in January, a project which has kept Kathy going through all the months of uncertainty. They laid the foundations together, and then Peter went off to Equatorial Guinea for a 5 week work stint. He has not been back. Peter was overwhelmed and proud to hear that Kathy has continued to build while he has been gone; she told him the walls are up and the roof is on. But he asked her to wait for him to come home to install the electrics, after all he is an electrical engineer!”

In the final moments of the call, Peter surprised Kathy by asking her to marry him when he got home. They have been partners for over 30 years, and brought up 2 children together. Nigrini says Kathy didn’t hesitate to say yes. 

Shaun Murphy, spokesperson for Frik Potgieter, said: “Kathy called Frik’s wife Sonja immediately after the call. While Sonja was obviously so relieved to hear the updates from Peter, at the same time, she is sad, disappointed and frustrated that she has not been able to speak to Frik through the South African consular mission to Equatorial Guinea. Since their arrest 7 months ago, DIRCO has only managed to arrange a single visit to Frik and Peter, which did not involve any personal contact for their families. 

“The families are really struggling. We need a political solution to secure their release quickly, and in the meantime, we need a mechanism to secure regular personal contact with Frik and Peter, which DIRCO have promised to assist with.”

FACT SHEET – FRIK POTGIETER AND PETER HUXHAM

  • Two South Africans, Frederik ‘Frik’ Potgieter (53) and Peter Huxham (55), were arrested at their hotel in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea on the evening of 9 February 2023 on allegations of drug-related charges, and were subsequently imprisoned.
  • The families have been devastated by Frik and Peter’s arrests, for crimes they unequivocally did not commit.
  • Frik and Peter are both highly experienced, professional engineers who were working for the Dutch company SBM Offshore in Equatorial Guinea at the time of their arrests.
  • They had worked for the company for 11 and 15 years respectively, and have maintained an impeccable professional record in the oil and gas industry, both in Equatorial Guinea and abroad in other countries. 
  • Despite both working for the same company, Frik and Peter did not know each other prior to their arrest. 
  • They received an official summons from the court on Wednesday, 22 June 2023 and the trial was held on Monday, 26 June 2023. 
  • The verdict was delivered on Thursday, 29 June 2023. 
  • The court found them guilty of the illegal drug trafficking, and sentenced each of them to 12 years of imprisonment in Equatorial Guinea.  In addition, they were also ordered to pay $5M USD (R93,7 million) each in damages with an additional $2.5M USD (R46,8 million) fine to be shared between them. 
  • Both Frik and Peter have denied all charges from the outset, and are shocked that any allegations related to drugs would be brought against them.
  • The families know that Frik and Peter, who are both much-loved, devoted family men and extremely well-respected within their communities and professionally, are innocent.
  • Consequently, the families are in the process of appealing this devastating and erroneous judgment, which they believe is not rooted in any fact or evidence.  
  • The families will continue to do everything in their power to prove Frik and Peter’s innocence and to bring them home to their loved ones and to the country they love.
  • The priority for the families right now is to establish regular contact with Frik and Peter, and to ensure their ongoing safety and wellbeing.  They will continue to engage with the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), and all diplomatic channels, to assist in this regard. 
  • The families noted the Department of International Relations’ (DIRCO) statement on 13 July 2023, in which the Department is calling for more direct and constructive cooperation from the relevant authorities in Equatorial Guinea regarding Peter and Frik’s wrongful incarceration and conviction in that country.
  • The families believe that the wellbeing and release of Frik and Peter will depend on strong and successful bilateral engagement between the Governments of South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, and they urge DIRCO to pursue every avenue available to achieve this as quickly as possible. 
  • They have already been in jail in Equatorial Guinea for 7 months – every additional day they remain in jail in Equatorial Guinea deepens their exposure to potential harm, and further distress.

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