Cabinda Activist Set to Stand Trial on Bogus Charges of Rebellion

José Marcos Mavungo was arrested without a warrant on March 14 as he left morning mass in oil-rich Cabinda, the capital city of the Angolan province with the same name. The 57-year-old human rights activist remains jailed five months later. His trial on the charge of rebellion is scheduled to begin on August 25. Due to his cardiac problems, his imprisonment is a serious threat to his life.

The protest Mavungo organized for the same day against bad governance and human rights violations was banned by the governor and did not take place.

Arão Bula Tempo, a human rights lawyer, was arrested on the same day as Mavungo. He stands accused of “collaboration with foreigners to constrain the Angolan state” apparently in connection with the planned protest. He still hasn’t been formally charged, but is prohibited from leaving the province to receive medical treatment or to speak at conferences.

Since Tempo’s conditional release from prison on May 13, he has been increasingly targeted by death threats, harassment and overt surveillance by intelligence agents. On July 31, six unknown men abducted and threatened his 18-year-old son for three hours.

Silencing Dissent in Cabinda

The government invokes the unresolved separatist conflict in the exclave of Cabinda to silence peaceful dissidents, accusing them of association with the armed insurgency.

The Operative Intelligence Group (GOI) coordinates counter-insurgency operations of the domestic and military intelligence, the military and police against cells of the separatist guerilla movement FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda). A 2006 peace agreement between the government and a faction of the rebels failed to resolve the conflict. GOI officials reportedly engage in arbitrary arrests and torture of persons suspected to be active FLEC members. They also specialize in harassing peaceful dissidents and human rights activists in Cabinda.

Arão Bula Tempo has filed numerous complaints for torture and unlawful arrest of suspected FLEC members by the security forces, often with involvement of GOI officials.

The Flawed Case Against Mavungo

On March 19, 5 days after Mavungo’s arrest, a judge dismissed his summary trial on the charge of “sedition” – a crime against public order – for lack of evidence. Yet instead of releasing him without charges, the judge submitted the proceedings to further investigation. On March 20, despite the lack of any new evidence, the prosecutor altered and aggravated the charges against Mavungo to rebellion, a crime against the security of the state. On July 17, the court indicted Mavungo and ordered his detention until trial.

Mavungo’s indictment clearly fails to establish he committed any crime under Angolan law. It illustrates the arbitrary nature of criminal proceedings against human rights defenders in Angola. It also highlights the subordination of Angola’s justice system to the government and its security forces.

Mavungo’s indictment for rebellion relies on a summarized account of an intelligence operation that allegedly took place on the night before his arrest.

According to the account, on the eve of the planned demonstration, “at an undetermined time at night,” agents of the Operative Intelligence Group approached “some individuals” who subsequently fled and left a bag behind. The bag contained explosives and fliers. The fliers allegedly called on the use of “sticks, stones and machetes” to overthrow the government and were being distributed in several locations during the same night “at orders” of Mavungo.

At no point does the indictment establish any factual link between Mavungo and the seized explosives and fliers, or the unknown fugitive individuals. No evidence is provided that Mavungo either owned, authored, distributed or even had knowledge of the leaflets in question, or that he had access to the seized explosives. Neither is there any reference to a forensic investigation into the seized material. The full intelligence account of the seizure was classified as confidential and can therefore not be accessed publicly.

In order to sustain the rebellion charges, the indictment quotes a verbal expression allegedly used by Mavungo during a meeting with the governor: the protest would proceed, even if “by the force of bayonets.” No evidence is presented that Mavungo actually made that statement. Nevertheless, the allegations that the crime was preceded by threats, and took place in a public building, are listed among aggravating factors for sentencing.

The indictment further points to slogans that were allegedly attached to the letter the organizers previously sent to the governor to announce their protest. These included a call on the government to rehabilitate the Cabindan Mpalabanda Civic Association, a human rights organization that the government banned in 2006. The indictment omits the fact that an appeal filed against the ban is still pending at the Supreme Court.

With the trumped-up rebellion charges, the criminal proceedings against Mavungo shifted the focus from what obviously cannot be considered a crime – the organization of a peaceful protest – to a shadowy  plot to overthrow the government by force.  The key role of the government’s intelligence services in fabricating the  case against Mavungo as in intimidating Arão Tempo is part a broader pattern of repression against civic activists in Angola under the pretext of a conspiracy to overthrow President Dos Santos.