Rapper and Activist Luaty Beirão Released

The Angolan activist rapper Luaty Beirão was released from custody by the Portuguese police on the evening of June 12. The day before, the rapper travelled to Lisbon, in a flight from Luanda, and was swiftly arrested at the airport upon collecting his luggage, which contained cocaine. Luaty was released without charges.

While the investigations continue, the rapper, who has dual citizenship, including the Portuguese, must report to the police, if he is to be absent from the country for more than five days.

According to his producer and friend, Pedro Coquenão, customs officials found a packet of cocaine inside the tyre of his bicycle, which he had checked-in from Angola, wrapped in plastic, in order to exchange it in Lisbon, where he had previously bought it.

Pedro Coquenão explained that when the rapper collected the bicycle wheel from the luggage carousel, he noticed a bulge in the tyre and that the plastic had been tampered with. He also said the rapper hardly had time to assess the situation as he was approached immediately by local officials who detained him for questioning.

The producer also stated that the singer had had difficulties with immigration officials in Luanda before boarding flight TAP TP288. An immigration officer, at the Airport, had told the rapper that he was barred from leaving the country. But, after several minutes of contacts with the hierarchy, the officer told him he had been cleared to leave. He then sent a text message to known Angolan rapper MCK, explaining his predicament. Already on the plane, Luaty Beirão also wrote to MCK, via sms, that he had been informed that “officers from DNIC [The National Directorate of Criminal Investigation] tampered with my luggage [the wheel].”

“This is all so clumsy. I bet they [the authorities] didn’t even bother to alter the original weight of the wheel when Luaty checked it in,” said Pedro Coquenão.

The rapper’s arrest prompted public outrage both in Angola and in Portugal. He is seen as one of the most influential leaders in the youth protest movement that has been consistently calling for the president to step down after nearly 33 years of ruling.

The planting of drugs, to incriminate activists, has a recent precedent. Early in the morning of September 9, 2011, DNIC agents and state security officers raided the house of youth protest leader Mário Domingos, in the Cazenga district.  “The agents took out, from the living room, a sealed box with a new TV set, and they went to open it in my absence. They soon returned with the box, and told me that they had found cocaine in it. I spent 45 days in jail, subjected to threats, and without due process,” said Mário Domingos.

Targeting the rapper

A well-known organiser of demonstrations, Luaty Beirão was targeted by pro-regime militias and given a beating on March 10, in the municipality of Cazenga, in Luanda, where  he was supposed to join an anti-government march. One of the militia men hit him over the head with an iron bar, and he had to have six stitches for the injury.

Since then, as a result of threats to his family and to himself, Ikonoklasta, as he is also known, had to leave home and went into hiding. A few days prior to his departure, the author visited him and discussed his upcoming trip to France, where he was scheduled to perform with his Portugal-based band, A Batida, at the Rio Loco International Festival. The Angolan artist Paulo Flores and the Portuguese Fado singer Mariza are some of the guests invited to perform at the event, which takes place in Toulouse, where the group should travel this Friday.

Luaty also spoke about his bicycle, one of his few treasured possessions. Well known for cycling around Luanda, the rapper had to stop after the tyres had been punctured several times, and then actually slashed. But he insisted on taking one of the wheels to Lisbon, which he had bought on his last trip to Portugal, so that he could exchange it.

Well aware of being a target, Ikonoklasta travelled without checking-in any baggage, apart from the wheel.

The cases of political pressure against Luaty Beirão are already significant. On June 2, 2011, his home in Vila-Alice neighborhood, in Luanda, was attacked by a group of more than 50 youths who were supposedly seeking payment for participating in a demonstration. Luaty Beirão revealed that he did not know any the youths. Nevertheless, state-owned media journalists accompanied the mob, instructed to lynch the rapper. The staged attack enable state media journalists to report, that day, tha Luaty owed his salvation “due to the prompt intervention of the National Police”. The mob threw bottles and other objects at his house and, although there is a police station located in the next street, the police didn’t intervene to rescue him or to detain the attackers.

On June 17, 2011, while escorting his grandmother to the bank, he was attacked by three individuals, in broad daylight, beside the São José Funeral Home in the Alameda area of Luanda. In spite of the presence of passers-by and several security guards, the attackers inflicted injuries to his arms, legs and back.

Last September, his girlfriend was kidnapped in Lisbon while Luaty, in Luanda, made public demarches for the release of his companions, who had been arrested on September 3, during a demonstration against president José Eduardo dos Santos. The two attackers threatened to rape her and urged her to advise her boyfriend to give up his anti-regime protest activities in Angola.  Ikonoklasta chose to keep quiet about the incident, as he also did the countless times her car was vandalised in Luanda, having the tyres slashed.

Last December, at Christmas, his grandmother, with whom he was living at the time, received a gift-wrapped teddy bear. This anonymous present came with a letter, containing death threats against the family, racial slurs, and vows to break into the house and burn it down with everyone inside.

In addition to his protest activities and the critical content of his lyrics, Luaty Beirão is all the more irritating since he is the son of a figure who was once very close to José Eduardo dos Santos. His late father, João Beirão, was the all-powerful director general of the Eduardo dos Santos Foundation (FESA), which, in the 90’s and in part of the following decade, was renowned as a parallel government, with more political authority than the State institutions.