Luanda Bans Demonstration to Free Political Prisoners
The Luanda Provincial Government has prohibited a protest by mothers, sisters and wives of 15 Angolan political prisoners to demand the release of their relatives. They had hoped to demonstrate on 28 August, the president’s birthday.
They delivered a letter on Wednesday to the Luanda provincial governor, Graciano Domingos, informing him of their intention to hold a demonstration and vigil. The negative response from vice-governor Jovelina Imperial came in less than 24 hours, citing a clause in the law on demonstrations and meetings that states “parades and processions may not take place before 7 pm on a weekday”. The demonstration was scheduled for 3 pm on a Friday.
The governor’s office added that holding a demonstration that defied a legal prohibition would be punishable as the crime of “disobedience” in term of the Penal Code.
Reacting to the letter, Isabel Correira, the mother of political prisoner Osvaldo Caholo and one of the signatories, asked: “If the police chase us with batons and set their dogs to attack and bite us during the day at the weekend, what will become of us if we demonstrate at night? Every day, the law is against us, the well-meaning citizens. Oh, Jesus! What are we going to do? Personally, I don’t know what to say.”
A lawyer who spoke to Maka Angola on condition of anonymity pointed out that the legal clause cited by the governor’s office mentioned parades and processions, not demonstrations.
“The terms ‘parades’ and ‘processions’ are unclear in legal terms and seem designed to cause confusion,” the lawyer said.
Protest at São Paulo prison
A protester holds a sign demanding “Free the Political Prisoners”.
The political prisoners are themselves meanwhile intensifying their protests inside prison. Gedeão Cauale, the uncle of Hitler Jessia Chiconda, said his nephew, as well as Benedito Jeremias and Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza”, had been on hunger strike since Monday.
“Today [Thursday] the three refused to come out of their cells for the family visit,” Gedeão Cauale said. The families insisted and Mr Cauale obtained permission to try to persuade them to come out of their cells. “When I saw Mbanza I wept and I also saw police trying to contain their tears. He is in a very bad state.”
Mbanza Hamza was transferred last week from Kakila Prison to São Paulo to receive medical treatment in the local hospital. His brother Vitorino Matias told Maka Angola that Mbanza Hamza has typhoid fever and a blood infection.
“My brother [Mbanza Hamza] said that if they die in jail, they know that President José Eduardo dos Santos will be to blame,” Vitorino said.
From Calomboloca jail, political prisoner Nito Alves sent a letter with “greetings to my revolutionary brothers and sisters” complaining that he had spent 21 days in solitary confinement under maximum security. He complained of “serious problems with my vision” that cause his eyes to water regularly, headaches and “a lot of fever”. He said he received no help from the prison health post. According to his note, when he asked for help the medical staff informed him that “they are not allowed [to assist him] because of orders from above”.
Nito Alves asks for the bare minimum: “That they treat me with human dignity, because we are all human beings.” He concludes: “Only your cries can improve our conditions in the cells.”
In their letter requesting permission for the demonstration, the women explained that the initiative comes from “a spirit of solidarity with their sons, spouses, brothers, relatives and friends” and that they intend to “show their feelings of inconsolable sorrow”. The petitioners called on governor Graciano Domingos to ensure “that the demonstration takes place in an orderly manner and in accordance with the principles of public order and respect for the fundamental rights of the citizens who participate in it” and to “order the province’s police forces to ensure the protection of the demonstration”.
Isabel Correia, who for many years was an MPLA activist and a member of the ruling party’s provincial committee in Bengo, said it was no coincidence that they had planned the demonstration for President José Eduardo dos Santos’s birthday, a date that has become as important as Independence Day in the national political calendar.
“It’s to make President José Eduardo dos Santos feel, if he is indeed human, how could he celebrate while he sends our sons to jail,” she said.
With sadness, she recalled the years when she mobilized the people and helped organize visits by the late President Agostinho Neto and by Dos Santos to her province. Her father, José Francisco Correira, had been imprisoned by the Portuguese colonial regime and was an MPLA activist from the start. “Today his grandson, Osvaldo, is a political prisoner of the MPLA regime,” she fumed.
Henriqueta Diogo, wife of political prisoner Benedito Jeremias and also a signatory of the letter, said “we decided to have the march on the president’s birthday to see how he can be happy with the suffering he has caused his own people, particularly the 15 political prisoners he keeps in jail”.
“Benedito never took part in any demonstration. The first time he participated in a civic event was at the meeting where he was detained,” she said.
Henriqueta Diogo said her husband had been interrogated several times by the Criminal Investigation Service and by the Attorney General’s Office on how he knew fellow detainee Domingos da Cruz and “why he was friends with him”.
“Benedito replied that he is free to choose his friends. They also asked him if he knew about the coup that Domingos da Cruz was supposedly preparing against President José Eduardo dos Santos,” she said.
Esperança Gonga, wife of Domingos da Cruz, sounded determined: “We are all frightened, but we won’t go back. We need to lose our fear. We have already suffered police brutality. We know the government has no shame about ordering the beating of defenceless women, but they also know we will not retreat.”
“Even the president is afraid,” she added. “He is afraid of being taken out of power.”
“It’s serious when a head of state is carousing while those he believes are threatening his power are being psychologically tortured,” she said.
Marcelina de Brito, sister of the political prisoner Inocêntio de Brito said: “I am not afraid. If the National Police think they can paralyse us with their brutality, they are wrong. We are disgusted with this situation. We will struggle until our relatives are freed.”
“The president is going to celebrate while repressing the people, while we are crying for our relatives’ freedom. It’s inhuman, she said.
Marcelina de Brito insisted that “the authorities have no proof to incriminate our relatives, who have been detained more than 50 days. What they are trying to do is to kill them psychologically, but they will not succeed.”
On Tuesday, Benedito Jeremias’s mother, Deolinda Luís, broke down at São Paulo Prison, when her son did not come out of the cell to receive the food she had brought him.
Benedito had written to the prosecutor in charge of his case asking to be allowed to interact with other detainees, particularly Hitler Jessia Chiconda, another political prisoner who is in the same prison.
His wife said the prosecutor and the prison director had accepted the request. However, she said the re-education section had decided to punish him for writing the letter and did not allow the family to have access to a copy.
“My mother-in-law collapsed, rolled over, started weeping and had a seizure. The police themselves had to assist her. She only wanted to see her son. We don’t know what punishment is being inflicted on him,” she said.
At the mothers’ march on 8 August, police beat Deolinda Luís, a mother of ten, with batons and allowed a police dog to bite her right hand.
Although the Luanda provincial police commander, Chief Commissioner António Sita, issued a statement saying the police did not attack the mothers, the author of this article not only witnessed the mothers being beaten but was himself threatened while he was detained in a police vehicle. When he was released, the officer on duty ordered him to hand over the paper on which he had noted the vehicle’s registration number. They also tried to delete all the photographs from his camera. The statement made by Mbanza Hamza’s mother, Leonor João, denying that the police had beaten any of the mothers, was a gross incident of government propaganda and dishonesty.
The 15 detainees are Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza”, Albano Bingobingo, Arante Kivuvu, Benedito Jeremias, Domingos da Cruz, Fernando Tomás “Nicola Radical”, Hitler Jessia Chiconda “Itler Samussuku”, Inocêncio Brito “Drux”, José Hata “CheikHata”, Luaty Beirão, Nelson Dibango, Nito Alves, Nuno Álvaro Dala, Osvaldo Caholo and Sedrick de Carvalho. The 16th political prisoner is Captain Zenóbio Zumba, detained later on account of his supposed friendship with Osvaldo Caholo.