Angolan Police Holds Six Children Aged Seven to 13 in Jail

Six children have been in detention since Thursday at the Luanda Provincial Criminal Investigation Directorate (DPIC), accused of setting alight a Toyota Corolla car. All of those detained are boys under 13 years old. Police from the Sambizanga Division seized them without warrant at 5h00 am on  June 18 in Ngola Kiluange district.

Police say they were acting on a complaint by the supposed owner of the car, who allegedly had credible evidence but who “up to now has not been able to present it to DPIC”. Family members of the detained boys say that “the owner of the car in question was in the patrol car pointing out the houses to the police”.

“The same man was in the police car when they came to get my son at 5am. It was he who showed them,” said António Domingos, whose seven-year-old son Costa Domingos was the youngest of those detained. António Domingos said his son had been sleeping at his grandmother’s house when he was arrested, and he had been startled when his phone rang so early in the morning. “When the call woke me up I thought it must be about a death or illness, or that my mother was playing a joke,” António said.

Idalina Martins was distressed about the detention of her son Emanuel Bengue, 11. “I was already getting ready to go to work. I think it is was around 5h15 am when the police knocked on the door and told me they had come to take away my son for burning a car,” she said.

We met Manuel Francisco and other parents of detained children in front of DPIC on Friday morning. His son, aged 13, is the oldest of those detained. Félix Mugiba’s son, Flor Mugiba, who is only eight, is said to be “the unhappiest in prison” and has been “crying a lot, mostly at night” since being detained, while the others “think this is all a joke”.

Jonathan Serra, 13, was also detained at 5h00 am at his mother’s house. “While thieves are stealing, the police get up early to chase after my little son,” said Fátima Julieta, Jonathan’s mother, with tears in her eyes. “This is what justice means in this country.”

Another boy who appears to be about 11 years old is also in detention. It was not possible to identify him because by Friday no family member had appeared to represent him.

According to accounts gathered in the neighbourhood, the car had been burnt about a month ago and was still parked in the area.

A source in DPIC’s Department of Juvenile Crime Prevention connected to the case said that “the case will shortly be referred to the Juvenile Court”. This has still not happened, and the boys remain in custody because DPIC does not have the authority to release them, an official in charge of the case told the boys’ families.

The same source later told Maka Angola that the boys are still in detention because the judge of the Juvenile Court was not available to hear their case.

A lawyer and law professor, who asked to remain anonymous, said the boys’ detention was illegal. “Penal responsibility in Angola begins at age 16 for most crimes. In exceptional cases, such as homicide, a teenager may be imprisoned from 14 years,” the lawyer said.

“Police may not detain anyone without a warrant unless they are caught in the act,” the lawyer added.

It is worth remembering that the ruling MPLA has proposed that the age of  penal responsibility be lowered in the new Penal Code, but party leaders have not reached agreement on whether to set the age at 12 or 14.

Meanwhile, DPIC on Monday refused entry to Idalina Bengue to treat an injury on her son’s foot. She said DPIC had told her that it was not a visiting day, so her son’s treatment would have to wait another day.

We tried to telephone the man who laid charges, but he ended the call as soon as Maka Angola identified itself.