Guards on Trial After Being Jailed in ‘Cash Machine’

Fifteen soldiers from the Central Protection and Security Unit (DCPS) in the Military Bureau of the Angolan Presidency (Casa Militar) appeared in the Luanda Regional Military Court on Tuesday, accused of making a collective demand for better salaries and better living and working conditions.

The charges follow an incident on 7 September last year, when 224 soldiers from the unit in question signed a petition addressed to the commander of the Presidential Guard Unit (UGP), Lieutenant General Alfredo Tyaunda, complaining of poor working conditions and salaries. The soldiers sent copies of the petition to the Military Judicial Police, the Military Prosecutor and the Chief of Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA).

Besides demanding decent salaries, the soldiers claimed proper salary slips, and for their salaries to be paid directly into a bank. A group of five soldiers who spoke to Maka Angola, on behalf of the others, revealed that they are not even issued a remittance note when they receive their salaries.

These five soldiers, whose names are withheld for their own security, said there had been an abortive attempt to install a branch of the state-owned Banco de Poupança e Crédito (BPC) bank in the UGP headquarters in Morro Bento.

“General Alfredo Tyaunda doesn’t agree to paying the salaries through the bank. He wanted to appoint the manager of the BPC branch at UGP. The bank didn’t agree to this, so he turned the building that was meant to be a bank into a jail,” one of the soldiers said.

On September 12, 2011, nine of the claimants were detained on suspicion of being the leaders of the group and, ironically, spent the night in the bank-turned-jail at UGP.

“We were locked up in the ‘cash machine’, the reinforced space where the bank safe should have been,” the group’s spokesman said. “The ‘cash machine’ has no window and air can only come in through [the cracks in] the door. We spent the night crouched against the wall for lack of space, with two buckets: one for urine and one for feces. The lack of air and the combined smell of filth and sweat intoxicated us,” the soldier said.

In court on Tuesday, the soldiers’ lawyer, David Mendes, argued that Article 25 of the Law on Military Crimes (Law 4/94), upon which the accusation against teh soldiers rests, was unconstitutional. The article defines the crime of “making demands in a group” as follows:

1. “Soldiers who make demands in a group in an unruly or mutinous manner shall be punished with a prison sentence of between two to eight years.

2. Those who accept, provoke or direct actions defined in the previous item shall be punished with a prison sentence of between eight to twelve years.”

Article 73 of the Angolan Constitution establishes the right to make a petition, denunciation, claim or complaint:

“All have the right to present, individually or collectively, to sovereign institutions or other authorities, petitions, denunciations, claims or complaints to defend their rights, the Constitution, the law or the general interest, as well as the right to be informed within a reasonable period on the result of the respective claim.”
Mendes reminded the court that the soldiers had only written a letter and had at no time caused a fracas or riot.

According to Mendes, the case could have several repercussions. “If the court decides to respect the Constitution, all soldiers will be able to make collective demands to increase their salaries and living conditions,” he said.

Otherwise, Mendes said, “the court will be violating the Constitution and setting another precedent, and the case will be referred to the Constitutional Court for revision”.

The court suspended the hearing for consultation on the argument about the unconstitutionality of the article in question. The trial will resume on Friday, September 21.