MALABO Equatorial Guinea arrested at least four members of the opposition for seeking to organize a protest ahead of an legislative election this month, Amnesty International and a local rights activist said on Wednesday.
The founders of the opposition Democratic Party for Social Justice, Clara Nsegue Eyi and Natalia Angue Edjodjomo, were detained on Monday for preparing the demonstration calling for their group's legalization.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's government deployed a heavy police and military presence on Wednesday - including helicopters overhead and a ban on vehicles in central Malabo - to prevent the march going ahead, rights groups said.
The general-secretary of the opposition People's Union party, Jeronimo Ndong, was arrested early on Wednesday. At least one other opposition supporter has been detained handing out pamphlets for the demonstration in recent days.
Fabian Nsue Nguema, a human rights lawyer and member of the People's Union, said those detained were being held incommunicado at the central police station in the capital.
"The government is depriving us of our fundamental right to protest," Nsue Nguema told Reuters by telephone from Malabo. "They put soldiers on the streets and police with dogs."
It was not immediately possible to reach a spokesman for the government in the oil-rich central African state for comment.
The detentions come as Equatorial Guinea, where Obiang Nguema has ruled for 34 years, prepares to hold a legislative election on May 26. There is currently only one opposition member in the 100-seat parliament.
"The authorities in Equatorial Guinea are heading a terrifying detention campaign targeting anyone who dares compete with them in the elections," said Noel Kututwa, Africa program director at Amnesty International.
As well as an election for the lower house, voters in Equatorial Guinea will for the first time elect 55 members of a new senate established under a constitutional reform in February 2012. A further 15 senators will be named by the president.
Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and EG Justice has warned the elections are unlikely to be free as the organizing body is controlled by the government and the work of observers will be severely restricted.
(Editing by Alison Williams)