How Police Commanders Brutally Assaulted Laurinda Gouveia
One National Police officer grabbed Laurinda Gouveia’s mobile phone, and another punched her in the face. They dragged her a few meters, by the hair, to a National Police vehicle. Laurinda committed the crime of treason by attempting to take part in a demonstration demanding the resignation of president José Eduardo dos Santos. What followed is her personal ordeal.
Last Sunday, November 23, at around 4pm, Laurinda, a 2nd year student of Philosophy at the Catholic University, and part-time street vendor of barbecued meat, went to Independence Square in Luanda, in the company of three other activists. While her companions were trying to get to the Agostinho Neto monument, Laurinda was taking pictures from a distance.
“The National Police patrol car took me to the 1st of May School [Commercial Institute of Luanda], beside the Square. Six police commanders and plain clothes SINSE (State Security and Intelligence Service) officials surrounded me and beat me, while their subordinates looked on”, described Laurinda, still bedridden.
“The commander from Luanda Island Police Station said to me: ‘you shit whore, here you are causing trouble’. He punched me between the eyes and the others started hitting me”, explained the girl.
According to the victim, they handcuffed her arms behind her back so that she couldn’t ward off the blows. The commanders kept hitting her with cudgels, truncheons and steel cables, swapping these implements between them as they beat her.
Laurinda Gouveia urinated three times during the ordeal. “I begged for mercy. One commander told me: ‘you’ll not only piss, you’re going to shit yourself here with the beating’”, she said.
They also hit her around the head with cudgels. “One of the SINSE officials asked me if I recognised him. I said I didn’t. He sent for an iron bar. He stood on my legs and hit me on the back with the bar. He said there was hot chilli on the bar”, revealed the victim.
In desperation, Laurinda Gouveia rolled under the car that was parked beside her: “The commander ordered the driver to start the car and roll over me, so I came out. They put me face down and started hitting me on the buttocks with a truncheon, at least 50 times. Then, they did the same to the soles of my feet and my head.”
According to Laurinda Gouveia, one police officer filmed every detail of her beating. She said she fainted several times during the two hours of continuous beating.
“Another commander grabbed me by the hair and started dragging me. I bit his hand”, revealed the activist. “He was furious and said: ‘I don’t know if you have AIDS, but now you’re going to dance!’. He picked up a universal phone charger with several leads, and started hitting me around the eyes with it. One of the other commanders told him to be careful not to damage the charger”.
Such was the violence of the attack that Laurinda Gouveia believed she was going to die there and then: “They were going to kill me, but one of the commanders said that this beating was only the beginning: ‘If we catch you here again, we will kill you’”.
“’This one who sells barbecued meat in Cassenda neighborhood, she comes in here trying to destabilize the country’, said one of the SINSE officials, letting me know he knew where I lived”, stated Laurinda Gouveia.
When the young activist appeared to be at death’s door, the “commanders” dumped her in front of the Angolan Writers’ Union, in School Square, less than 300 meters from the place where she had been brutalized.
An ambulance came on the scene, whether by coincidence or not, and took her to Prenda Hospital. There was another activist in the same ambulance. His story is told below.
Baixa de Kassanje – another victim of vicious beating
Oldair Fernandes, “Baixa de Kassanje”, 24 years old, an IT technician, also relived the moments of torture he experienced when he arrived at Independence Square, in the company of Laurinda Gouveia and two other young people.
“When the three of us tried to get around the police barrier at the edge of the square, we were surrounded by about 20 police officers. It was Commander Francisco Notícias himself [Commander of the Maianga Division of the National Police], who grabbed me, while five SINSE agents beat me with iron bars. Then they took me into the 1st of May school”, revealed Baixa de Kassanje.
Inside the public school grounds, “more than ten men beat me with iron bars and sticks. They were in a rage. I fainted several times”, he stated.
In a split second when his aggressors were off-guard, Baixa de Kassanje said he made a run for it and leapt into a Toyota Hiace taxi: “The agents broke the Hiace’s windows, but the driver showed great courage and didn’t stop. He took me a certain distance where he thought I would be safe, and he let me out”.
The activist added that Superintendent Francisco Notícias only sent an ambulance “to check if we were living or dead”. The ambulance found him where the taxi had left him.
In Prenda Hospital, the two activists were put on intravenous drips for the night. Both patients stated that they were given no other medical care, not even an analgesic: “They put us on a drip for the night and that was all”.
Officers from SINSE and the National Police stayed with them at the hospital, in an attempt to interrogate the two of them: “They were there overseeing us, but I didn’t answer any of their questions. Activist Nito Alves, who was there supporting us, shouted at them from time to time, to leave us alone”, recalled Baixa de Kassanje.
Both Laurinda Gouveia and Baixa de Kassanje are bedridden, afraid and lack the means to receive proper medical attention.
“SINSE is still hanging around my house, interrogating my neighbors. They are still watching me”, says Baixa de Kassanje.
Maka Angola contacted the Provincial Command of the National Police in Luanda, to obtain an official account of the events. The meeting took place, but it was unable to get any answers on the record.
The previous day’s violence
The previous day, on the November 22, two groups of protestors, each with around 20 young people, tried a new strategy. The first group was going to remain in Independence Square, and the second group planned to march in the direction of the Presidential Palace, in the Cidade Alta, with both groups demanding the president’s resignation. In the meantime, a third group of demobilized soldiers, demanding pensions appeared.
At around 11am, 12 of the youths who were marching on the palace were pursued between Maianga and the National Assembly, among them Raúl Mandela, David Salei and Beimani Residentível. Not having reached the palace, the youths regrouped in Independence Square, where they met up with Red Miguel, Álvaro Binga, MC Life, Dago Nível Intelectual and others.
The police were quick to arrest all the abovementioned youth. Not only did the officers beat them all with steel cables and truncheons; they kicked them and even took them out of the city. They were eventually set free, one by one, at considerable intervals so that they couldn’t meet up, in the municipality of Cacuaco.
According to details given by Osvaldo Manuel João to Maka Angola, “the police took our phones, our identification papers and all of our money on the orders of Commander Francisco Notícias.”
Journalist Sedrick de Carvalho, who was alongside Commander Notícias, explained that, initially, the commander ordered his men not to arrest any of the activists.
However, he saw agents scuffling with some of the youths, and one of them actually punched a police officer. At this point: “the commander had my phone confiscated and then the beatings began”, recalls Sedrick de Carvalho, whose phone was kept by the police for about an hour.
By arrangement with the youths, a group of a few dozen war veterans also attempted to converge on the streets around Maianga to march on the palace. “Since they had military training, they were able to react to the Rapid Intervention Police (PIR). The Ninjas [PIR] didn’t manage to overpower them [the veterans] like they did with us, beating their way through us”, explained Raúl Mandela. The activist said that the security services did not arrest any of the veterans.
According to his evidence, Raúl Mandela was beaten by police officers with iron bars, and his right arm was swollen.
There is another curious detail to the story. The provincial government gave permission for a teachers’ rally in commemoration of Teachers’ Day, and another for the ruling MPLA youth (JMPLA) for the same time. According to Raúl Mandela, the anti-regime demonstrators evaded security by wearing T-shirts belonging to the teachers’ rally, while others wore JMPLA T-shirts and caps, but stuck to their demands.
The official strategy of holding pro-regime rallies to put a damper on anti-regime demonstrations did not succeed due to infiltration. “When the police became aware, they had to put an end to all the demonstrations, we were all mixed in together”, stated Raúl Mandela.
Protests or a game of cat and mouse
It has been like this since 2011: a youth group announces an anti-government protest, police and security services make it their business to arrest, beat and disperse them.
Last weekend, this tragicomedy repeated itself. What do the young people gain through provocation and what do the authorities gain through repression? What is the actual value of the Constitution, which allows for peaceful demonstrations by citizens?These questions are worth analyzing.
On Sunday, several young revolutionaries joined a pilgrimage to Sant’Ana Cemetery in Luanda, organized by CASA-CE and led by Abel Chivukuvuku, in memory of Manuel Hilbert Ganga. It was the first anniversary of the assassination of the young CASA-CE activist by presidential security services, on November 23, 2013. This march had police protection and went ahead peacefully.
Invariably, anti-government protest efforts are demonstrations against President José Eduardo dos Santos. This time, just as on several previous occasions, the young people demanded his resignation.
Why the focus on the president? His longevity in power for 35 years is merely a detail. The fundamental question is the Constitution of 2010, which abolished the government as one of the four bodies of sovereignty. The new Constitution establishes only three sovereign bodies; the president of the Republic, the Parliament and the Courts.
In turn, the president of the Republic is the head of the Executive, the term given to the government formed by him merely as an auxiliary body of his absolute power. Furthermore, the president is first elected for Parliament.
The trouble is that the president has always been an opportunistic leader. When something in government turns out well, all the plaudits are for him. Whereas, he is not responsible for on-going bad government policy, such as impunity, corruption and unemployment. He is not responsible for any of it.
It is in this process of denial of the reality of the country that the ruling MPLA, the state propaganda and repression are used as the president’s tools to squash dissent.
Where the MPLA is concerned, these young people are the seeds of hidden forces which could destabilize the party’s 39 years of power in Angola. For the MPLA, the ordinary Angolan has no individual thought, feels no hunger, and has no notion of the reality. Any Angolan who thinks, but does not put his knowledge at the service of the MPLA, is a danger, an agent of evil. Today, the essence of the MPLA is little more than an organization of criminals hell-bent on robbing the country, destroying its citizenry, and the moral principles that ought to guide the behavior of a society.
Today, a patriot is one who supports and lives off corrupt schemes; reveres incompetence; follows hammerheads such as Bento Bento, and applauds delinquents such as Bento Kangamba, the current crop of MPLA leaders.
State media propaganda, disseminated by the Angolan Public Television (TPA), the National Radio of Angola (RNA) and the only daily newspaper in the country, Jornal de Angola, is used to stupefy the ordinary Angolan. Those citizens who refuse to be stupefied, and therefore fully demand their constitutional rights are liable to be beaten at will. Such citizens are not good Angolans.
But what do the young people gain from all the demonstrations? Above all, they prove the democratic unsustainability of the regime. How can a handful of youths march on the palace and wake up the president, who has an indescribable security apparatus? Or is it just a smokescreen?
Nevertheless, the fear that the country’s leadership feels towards the people is far greater than the confidence they have in their system of repression.
What does the regime gain from the beatings? It lends continuity to its tradition of violence as a means of maintaining power. Inarguably, it is a formula which has been used with great success.
There are two obstacles that society needs to overcome in order to validate its constitutional rights in a unified manner: corruption and the absence of a visionary leadership which could guide the people along the right path.