MALABO (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea has granted amnesty to activists and members of the opposition ahead of a "national dialogue" this month, a decree signed by the Central African nation's president said on Wednesday.
The move is seen as a goodwill gesture before the talks involving government, opposition, religious and other groups planned for July 16 to 21.
The decree was welcomed with caution by rights group Amnesty International, which said in a statement that a similar promise in 2014 had never materialised.
The tiny oil and gas-rich nation has been ruled with an iron fist by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the longest-serving president in the continent, since he came to power in 1979 in a coup.
Despite its oil riches, most of the country's 1.2 million people live in poverty. Rights groups have labelled Obiang Nguema's government as one of the world's most corrupt.
According to the decree on the government's website, a general amnesty has been granted to all those convicted of political crimes, and those currently being processed for similar crimes.
It said the move was a gesture to offer greater freedom and security ahead of the national dialogue with opposition parties, civil society groups, religious groups and the diaspora. Foreign observers could also attend.
Some opposition parties had demanded an amnesty as a condition of their participation in the dialogue.
"While by all means this new announcement is a welcome step, much more needs to be done to make a decisive break with the country’s history of repression," Amnesty International said.
It added that a similar announcement was made in 2014 but not all political prisoners were released.
"For decades, activists, opposition members and those expressing dissent have faced arbitrary arrest and detention without charge or contact with their families or lawyers, while some have been tortured," it said.
(Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Andrew Roche)