The European Commission’s Problem with the Truth on Angola

Recently, on November 19, the president of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, instructed the EU High Representative and vice-president of the Commission, Baroness Catherine Ashton, to respond on his behalf to queries on the detention of Angolan activist Nito Alves, a minor, and the charges brought against him.

Mr. Barroso is a very well known and controversial figure in Angola, for his promotion of the first peace agreement in the country, in 1991, signed between President José Eduardo dos Santos, and his nemesis, the late rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. At the time, Mr. Barroso was the Portuguese minister of Foreign Affairs. He has since cultivated a close friendship with President Dos Santos, and has been favouring him in the international arena.

President Dos Santos has been enlisting more senior Portuguese politicians to help him shield the corrupt deeds and human rights abuses of his government. In exchange, he supports Portugal’s economy.

Mr. Dos Santos family, cronies and the National Oil Company Sonangol are the largest foreign investors, by country, in stock exchange listed companies in Portugal, having spent over € 2.86 billion in recent years. In salaries and other honoraria, Portuguese citizens have remitted € 270.6 million from Angola to Portugal.

This could be the only explanation as to why, in his letter, Mr Barroso failed to mention the real reason for the arrest of Nito Alves: President José Eduardo dos Santos himself.


The Letter

In a response to questions raised by a Portuguese Member of the European Parliament, Ms. Ana Maria Gomes, the High Representative said that her services were following the case closely. “I have been informed that the initial charge filed against him, “defamation” as part of the Law on Crimes against State Security, has now been changed to the lesser charge of “encouraging public disorder,” she stated.

Furthermore, in the letter, Lady Ashton explained that the European Union (E.U.) delegation in Luanda has been in contact with the 17-year-old activist’s family, lawyer, and the pro bono legal organization sponsoring his case, Associação Mãos Livres.

Such a close scrutiny of the situation, on the part of E.U., through its delegation in Angola, could not have been more welcome. It also meant Mr Barroso could be updated on the events.

However, Mr Barroso’s letter, delivered by Baroness Ashton, skewed the facts, made unnecessary political comments, and, most seriously, omitted the cause of the arrest, imprisonment and the charges laid against Nito Alves, who happens to be a minor.

First, Mr Barroso stated in the letter that Nito Alves’s situation was somehow connected with an issue that was never raised by the Angolan authorities.

“As you most probably know, the T-Shirts produced by Nito Alvez (sic) had the following sentence printed on the back: “Povo angolano, quando a Guerra é necessária e urgente” (Angolan people, (sic) the war is necessary and urgent). This slogan is of course quite sensitive in a country that had such a long history of civil war,” Lady Ashton argued.

Such a political comment is blatantly skewed, as the recorded events demonstrate.

Nito Alves was kidnapped on September 12, by 15 armed and unidentified plain clothed officers. The agents did not have an arrest warrant, and took the prisoner to a disused police station, where they threatened him with death because of the slogan that was printed on the front of the 20 t-shirts: “Zé-Dú/Fora/Nojento Ditador [Zé-Dú/Out/Disgusting Dictator].” Zé-Dú is the nickname of President José Eduardo dos Santos.

The kidnapping of Nito Alves was only made public because a witness alerted the local opposition FM broadcaster, Rádio Despertar, which immediately reported the event. That forced the agents involved in the operation to transfer Nito Alves to a police station. Last year, a similar police and state security operation led to the execution of activists Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Cassule.

As for what was printed on the back of the t-shirts, which may be literally translated as “Angolan people, when war is necessary and urgent”, these words are the title of an article published on August 8, 2009, in the weekly publication, Folha 8 by journalist and university lecturer Domingos da Cruz.  A year later, on August 20, 2010, the same author published a book in Brazil, with the same misleading title.

The book is a collection of essays on a variety of issues, including pornography, sexuality, civil disobedience, Catholicism, peace, African thinkers, death in the Bantu tradition, U.S. President Obama and hunger in the world. In the shuffle, Mr. Da Cruz made a stern call for the youth to take advantage of the constitutional right to hold demonstrations for human rights and justice.

The Office of the Attorney-General charged him with “the crime of inciting collective disobedience.” However, the Law on Crimes against State Security (Law 7/78), which typified such a crime, had been revoked. Thus, on September 6, 2013, the Provincial Court of Luanda dismissed the case against Domingos da Cruz, since the crime that he was accused of committing no longer exists under Angolan legislation.

It was between June and September, when Domingos da Cruz was first called to court, that young protesters adopted the title of his book as a slogan, to express their solidarity toward the author.

Nevertheless, in the evening of Nito Alves’ kidnapping, the Angolan Public Television (TPA), the mouthpiece of the regime, unleashed a propaganda campaign, threatening doomsday. It focused exclusively on the title of Domingos da Cruz’s book, which was printed on the back of the t-shirts, to obscure the embarrassment that the failed kidnapping operation had caused, and the “disgusting dictator” slogan printed on the front. It appears that the E.U. delegation in Luanda based its report to Mr Barroso, on this propaganda since there is no reference to this information anywhere in the legal case against Nito Alves .


The Charges against Nito Alves

Here are the facts.

Public prosecutors took liberties in changing, four times, the charges against Nito Alves. The first one did not charge Nito Alves with any specific crime, while others accused him of insulting the President, but through differing legal arguments.

Finally, on November 8, the Office of the Attorney-General settled for a more contentious charge against the young activist, under the revoked Law on the Crimes against the State Security, of 1978 (Art. 16, on Attempts against the Head of State), the same law used against Domingos da Cruz.

The public prosecutor charged Nito Alves with “the crime of insulting [injúria] the holder of a sovereign body.” These charges were laid on the day Nito Alves was conditionally released from jail, under a statement of identity and residence.

The public prosecution arguments are very clear. They explain that during interrogation, Nito Alves reiterated that he would not take out the word “disgusting” [nojento], and the “if it offends the president, it is because he presumably makes such mistakes.”

According to the Office of the Attorney-General, “such words aimed at morally offending the President of the Republic, José Eduardo dos Santos, also known as ‘Zé-Dú,’ a sovereign body that must be treated with all due respect and reverence.”

There are no lesser charges against Nito Alves, for “encouraging public disorder,” as claimed by Lady Ashton. This claim is simply false. I spoke to lawyer Salvador Freire, from Associação Mãos Livres, who met the E.U. delegation in Angola. He denied having provided such information.


Oh, Mr Barroso!

If Mr Barroso and his services are following the case closely, then they are misleading the European Commission and the European Parliament, and their constituents.

The European Parliament must urge Mr Barroso and Baroness Ashton to correct this low act of diplomacy, and to set the record straight.

There is a dictator in Angola who has locked up a minor for printing 20 t-shirts that described him as “disgusting.” The same dictator is trying this minor under a revoked State security law. The minor has to report fortnightly at a police station. These are the facts.