Prison Riot in Viana: Four Dead, 65 Injured

A riot that broke out in Viana prison in Luanda, on Monday, morning left four dead and 65 people injured, 30 of them seriously, according to prison sources. Official reports quoted by the state news agency, Angop, so far acknowledge no deaths and only 52 injuries.

A police source told Maka Angola that most of the injuries were sustained from gunshots, in a combined attack by the Rapid Intervention Police (PIR), Public Order Police and the prison services.

“When the PIR arrived at the scene they started shooting the at detainees’ legs. Most of the wounds were sustained in the legs,” said the source, who preferred to remain anonymous.

One prisoner, who for his own safety is identified only as “G”, explained what happened.

“The disturbance is, in short, due to the two special annual visits that the prisoners have a right to, at Christmas and New Year. This year the prison directorate decided to allow only one visit for each block of detainees. Because of excess numbers, not everyone was covered by the visit,” G said.

According to G, the prison services on Sunday only allowed visits to Block C, where convicts are held, but most of these prisoners did not receive visits. The convicts complained to the Viana prison directorate, which relented and allowed the Block C visiting period to be extended to Monday, and at the same time halted the visits scheduled on Monday for other blocks.

“The other blocks, which should have received visits today, started an uprising because of this. They broke the doors of their cells and decided to go and complain to the director,” G said.

Another prisoner, identified as “P”, told Maka Angola that the prison guards soon started firing tear gas grenades to control the prisoners, who then threw the grenades back at the guards. A police source confirmed that some prison staff had become unconscious from inhaling tear gas. Moments later, reinforcements arrived from the PIR, supported by helicopters, water cannon and a dog unit.

“The PIR surrounded the prison and tried to open the main gate which divides the jail itself from the prison service premises, to allow a large contingent to go inside and force the prisoners into their cells,” G said.

“When the PIR opened the main gate there was a large surge of prisoners who marched towards the PIR, who started firing at the prisoners’ legs,” G said.

A police source confirmed to Maka Angola that the police had used a tactic of firing live ammunition at prisoners’ lower limbs. “Most of the injuries were sustained in the legs,” the same source said.

G counted four dead bodies, which the police had left in a corner near the gate where police had fired on the prisoners.

A third prisoner, identified as O., who has been held in pre-trial detention for almost four years, told Maka Angola, by phone, that the disturbance has deeper causes. “What happened is due, above all, to the overcrowding of the prison, inadequate food, mistreatment of prisoners and an over-use of preventative detention.” From where he was positioned, O. was able to count 12 bodies moved by the police. He was unable to say if all of those were definitely dead, or if some were merely unconscious.

The wounded were taken to the São Paulo prison hospital and to the Military Hospital.

Another problem that is being discussed in the prison service is the permanent use of prison guards to work in the private residences of Interior Ministry officials. Maka Angola has seen a document that shows how the Interior Minister, Ângelo Tavares, keeps 15 prison guards working in three of his private residences, in addition to his official security detail. The Secretary of State for Prison Services, José Bamoquina Zau, has five prison guards working for him, the national director of Prison Services has six, his deputy has four, and the former national director, Mendonça, still enjoys the services of four guards.

“In a normal situation, the Interior Minister, Ângelo Tavares, would have to resign. The situation is getting worse and he has contributed to this. He doesn’t know how to resolve these situations,” the police source said.