CIVICUS condemns sentencing of 17 Angolan activists, urges their release

The Provincial Court of Luanda sentenced 17 Angolan youth activists to prison sentences ranging from between two to over eight years on Monday for engaging in “preparation of a rebellion and criminal association.” CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, strongly condemns this latest instance of repression by Angola’s totalitarian state apparatus, headed by president José Eduardo dos Santos since 1979.

The charges against the imprisoned activists stem from their participation in a private gathering to discuss non-violent strategies for civil disobedience, outlined in the book ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation’ written by author Gene Sharp and published in 30 languages around the world. Several of the accused are vocal opponents of the Angolan government’s suppression of democracy. CIVICUS and other civil society groups previously highlighted the spurious nature of charges slapped against the activists in a letter urging South African President Jacob Zuma to engage Angolan authorities on the injustices of this case. 

“This sentence is clearly part of the Angolan government’s strategy to silence critical voices that speak out against human rights abuses,” said Ine Van Severen, Policy and Research Analyst at CIVICUS. “Angola is one of the most repressive countries in Southern Africa and is clearly failing in its obligations to the South African Development Community (SADC) and under international law to guarantee the free exercise of democratic rights.”

The heaviest sentence of eight years and six months was handed down to journalist Domingos da Cruz, who the court considered to be the leader of the ‘criminal association.’ He is the author of an unpublished adaptation of Gene Sharp’s work. Well-known Portuguese-Angolan rapper Luaty Beirao was also sentenced to five years and six months in prison.

Although initial charges of conspiracy to mount a coup against Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos were dropped during the closing statements by the prosecution, additional charges of “criminal association” were added. The trial has been marred by irregularities, with reports of the activists being denied recourse to due legal process, including several delays, solitary confinement, and torture. Fifteen of the 17 activists were held in preventive detention from 20 June to 18 December 2015, and then placed under house arrest. 

Angolan authorities have systematically repressed calls for accountability and respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. Human rights defenders and journalists critical of the government are regularly intimidated, harassed, jailed and tortured. 

In its Universal Periodic Review at the Universal Human Rights Council in 2014, the Angolan government accepted a number of recommendations for the better protection of human rights which remain unimplemented. These include improving national mechanisms to promote human rights, making efforts to prevent arbitrary detention and torture, and bringing perpetrators to justice. 

Other recommendations sought to address shortcomings in the judicial process including length of pre-trial detention, as well as ensure respect for the freedom of expression and the activities of civil society organisations, such as taking measures to ensure that any actions against human rights organisations are not politically motivated.

CIVICUS calls on Angola’s authorities respect these fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly and to release all the 17 wrongfully accused activists in the interests of justice and democracy.

The 17 activists are: Henrique Luati da Silva Beirão, Albano Bingobingo Manuel Nito Alves, Nuno Alvaro Dala, Nelson Mendes Dos Santos, Alfonso Jojo Matias (Mbanza Hamza), Sedrick de Carvalho, Fernando António Tómas (Nicola Radical), Hitler Chiconda (Samussuku), Italiano Arante Kivuvu, Benedito Dali (Dito Dali), José Gomes Hata (a.k.a. Cheik Hata), Inocénio De Brito (Drux), Domingos da Cruz, Osvaldo Correia Caholo, Rosa Conde and Laurinda Gouveia.