A Routine of Kidnappings

Five unidentified individuals abducted youth protest organizer Gaspar Luamba on June 14, in Luanda. For six hours and a half, they interrogated and harassed him.

At around 10 A.M., as the activist finished a class on political sociology, at the Angolan Institute for International Politics (ISA), two classmates informed him that two individuals would like to speak to him downstairs. According to his narrative, when he went down, from the first floor, he saw no such individuals in the yard, and walked out of the premises. Mr. Luamba, aged 25, is a first-year student of international relations and political sciences at ISA.

In the street, some hundred meters from the institute, two men approached him, and politely asked him to get into a car without any resistance to avoid alerting the passersby. As he hesitated, a pickup truck Mitsubishi L200 sped to cut his retreat, two men pulled out, one pointed a handgun at him and the other slapped him twice in the face. The men hauled him off to the back seat of a second car, a four wheel drive KIA, where a fifth man, the head of the mission was.

“They drove at a high speed, and straight to the building yard of Odebrecht, by the Benfica expressway,” said Luamba. Odebrecht is a Brazilian multinational company, involved in construction, oil, diamond and other ventures in Angola, and it is known as one of the companies with close ties to the presidential palace.

Gaspar Luamba explained to Maka Angola that his abductors rushed him to an office, where one of them laid some instruments on a table “for torture,” including pliers and an angle grinder. According to his testimony, the head of the mission asked him: “Now that you are here, where it is the law to defend you?” Meanwhile, one of the kidnappers asked permission to “pluck one of my finger nails with the pliers, for me to speak out and fast,” said Mr. Luamba.

His captors wanted to know who are the sources of funding and encouragements of the anti-government youth movement that has been holding small protests against the nearly 33-year rule of president Dos Santos since March 2011. Gaspar Luamba also said that the men were fully aware of the details of his recent movements (including a trip to his hometown of Malanje), whom he met and where he went. They also knew details about the lives of other leading protesters such as Carbono Casimiro, and his upcoming trip abroad; Mbanza Hamza, and his financial woes; and rapper Luaty Beirão. The latter was briefly detained on June 12, at the Lisbon International Airport, upon his arrival, as the local police found cocaine in his checked in luggage.

According to Mr. Luamba, his abductors wanted to know if the main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and its most recent splinter CASA-CE, had channeled funds to support the protests. On May 19, UNITA held peaceful demonstrations throughout the country, demanding a transparent electoral process, which drew tens of thousands of people. These were the largest crowds seen since 1992, in support of a cause that was not that of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has been in power for nearly 37 years.

The victim explained that the kidnappers asked him to put a price on his conversion, and that of his fellow protesters, to the regime’s side. Upon asking about whom he would be dealing with, he received a hard slap on the face from the chief interrogator.

“The chief told me that if we [youth protest leaders] continue to insist in protesting: ‘This people whom you say you are defending, will have no idea about your whereabouts or your fate, and you will get no help’.”

The kidnappers also took the opportunity, according to Mr. Luamba’s narrative, to convey a message that the author, who has been writing on the protests and on corruption, is a target on hold. “The chief told me that there is no law preventing them to act as they please against you. He said: ‘If we have not thrown that Rafael Marques in jail yet or if we still keep him alive it is only for a strategic reason,’” said Mr.Luamba.

On the same day of the kidnapping, unidentified individuals displayed more open surveillance in front of the author’s residence, also on a Mitusbishi L200 pickup truck parked in front of the house at dawn, which included following ostensibly the family’s movements to and from the house, with note takings and acts of provocation. The following day, the same individuals proceeded with the same routine.

The youth leader said that the other men in the room kept taunting him with requests, to the head of the mission, to allow them to pluck one of his eyes, among other graphic descriptions of the pain they could inflict on his body.

Initial reports released on the kidnapping mistakenly stated that the incident happened at Jean Piaget University, in Viana. Mr. Luamba is also concurrently at this university as third year sociology student.

Gaspar Luamba is the youth organizer who has had most run-ins with the authorities and pro-government militias. He was first briefly arrested by the police on May 25, along with Carbono Casimiro, Mbanza Hamza, Pandita Nehru and seven other youths, as well as the widow of a ruling party icon Pascoal Luvualu, the elder Elsa Luvualu, who had sided with the youth.

Three months later, on August 20, Gaspar Luamba, Casimiro Carbono, Pandita Nehru and six other protest organizers decided to hold a press conference at a public square, to denounce the violence against peaceful demonstrators, and swiftly ended up in jail, and their equipment confiscated. The police later released the individuals without any explanation. In an act of stubbornness, the youngsters decided to camp in front of the police station where they had been held, in protest for their arbitrary arrest, and held a vigil to demand the return of their video equipment and photo cameras. After negotiations with a senior police officer, who promised to return their equipment, the youngsters went home.

It only took two weeks of respite for Mr. Luamba. At midday of September 3, their colleague Pandita Nehru was kidnapped around Independence Square, in Luanda, where they had scheduled an anti-dos Santos demonstration. Mr. Luamba and the others decided they would march in protest towards the presidencial palace. They conveyed their intentions to the police commanding officers who were at the square. The latter did not take action on the kidnapping that had just happened in the open. Two hours later, with no news on their comrade, the youth set on foot toward the palace. The police and plainclothes officers swiftly repressed the demonstrators with clubs and iron rods. The attacks injured several protesters, including Mr. Luamba, who was seriously hit on the head with an iron rod, fainted, and later needed 12 stitches to suture the wound. Adolfo Campos André had injuries in the face, lost a tooth, and needed five stitches on the lips. The police fractured the right arm of António Roque dos Santos, while it hit José Mwanza with an iron rod on the head that required six stitches. Carbono Casimiro, Alexandre Dias dos Santos and Afonso Mayenda “Mbanza Hamza” served as punching bags for the police officers and the thugs assisting them.

The police had to rush Gaspar Luamba and Adolfo Campos to two different hospitals, including the Military Hospital, as they were in a state of unconsciousness, while 40 other youth were hauled off to different police stations in detention. The following day, after being released from hospital, the police subjected him, and two other protesters, José Mwanza and António Cangombe, to torture in the cells of the Bairro Operário Police Station.

Gaspar Luamba was then convicted, among 16 others, of disorderly conduct, and spent a total of 43 days in jail. On the third day after his release the police picked him in the street, while walking to a lunch, and booked him again. Later in the day, a commander explained to him that the main cause for his arrest was his protest t-shirt with the slogan “32 is too much”, a reference to the years in power of president Dos Santos. Mr Luamba was set free.

Last month, on May 22, a group of 15 pro-government militias stormed the house of rapper Casimiro Carbono, in Luanda, armed with pistols, machetes and iron rods. Gaspar Luamba was among the 10 protest organizers present at Carbono’s house that evening. Beatings ensued, and Gaspar Luamba’s head was once again struck with an iron bar, which required eight stitches, and had an arm fractured.

As elections are set for August 31, pressure on anti-dos Santos critics has increased. He is running and is expected to finally be elected president, after 33 years without ever being elected by the people.

To overcome people’s resistance to his rule, president dos Santos masterminded the abolition of direct presidential elections in the Constitution. Angola has now an atypical system is which the president is neither directly elected by the people nor by parliament. The first name, on the closed list system for the legislative elections, of the winning party automatically becomes president of the republic.

The president, his wife, first lady Ana Paula dos Santos, and his daughter Welwitchia dos Santos “Tchizé”, are all running for parliament.