[JURIST] Former British officer Simon Mann [BBC profile, JURIST news archive], convicted [JURIST report] last year of involvement in a 2004 coup attempt [BBC backgrounder] in Equatorial Guinea, was released from prison Tuesday after being pardoned [Decree 116/2009 text; Decree 117/2009 text] by Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo [official profile]. Mann and his accomplices, four South African mercenaries, left the country Wednesday after being given 24 hours to depart. They are banned from reentering Equatorial Guinea. Mann, who had admitted [JURIST report] his involvement in planning the coup, had been serving a 34-year prison sentence. Mbasogo said that he pardoned the prisoners for humanitarian reasons, specifically citing Mann's poor health and need for medical care. UK officials have said they may question [Guardian report] Mann when he returns to the country, in order to determine if he violated terrorism laws by actions he took while living there.
Mann, a former British military officer with the elite Special Air Service [BBC backgrounder], was arrested in 2004 after a plane carrying him and approximately 60 mercenaries landed in Zimbabwe. Mann was sentenced [JURIST report] in 2004 in Zimbabwe for weapons charges, and was deported [JURIST report] to Equatorial Guinea in secret in February 2007. At his trial, Mann testified that Mark Thatcher [BBC profile], the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, was involved in the plot and that Mann was played only a minor role [JURIST report] in the plan overthrow Mbasogo. Thatcher pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in South Africa in 2005 to charges related to the failed coup and later admitted to having chartered a helicopter for Mann, but denied knowledge of or involvement in the coup.