Mothers of Political Prisoners March for their Sons’ Freedom
The mothers and relatives of the 15 political prisoners are set to defy the authorities today, at 13.00, when they attempt to march in Luanda to demand the release of their sons. Yesterday, the Luanda Provincial Government notified the organizers that the march had been prohibited. It has become a routine for the police and security forces to disperse any attempt at anti-government protests with considerable pre-emptive violence, arrests and sometimes kidnapping.
The provincial government has clearly changed its position on the march, as it had initially allowed it by citing the constitutional right of peaceful demonstrations. It is now impeding the realisation of the march, allegedly for legal reasons. Reacting to the ban, Leonor Odete João, mother of Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza” told Maka Angola “the march will go ahead”.
“We will not get to the National Assembly, but we will reach the Largo da Mutamba and send a representative to the Palácio da Justiça [where the office of the Attorney-General is located], she explained.
Speaking on behalf of the other families, Leonor Odete João reiterated that “we, mothers and relatives, we don’t have weapons, we don’t have knives or machetes or anything. We are going to march dressed in panos [traditional Angolan cloth], like African mothers, so that they hear us and release our children.”
“Our leaders are making us suffer. Our leaders are inhuman, but we are shouting to be heard. We are sad and fed up with this government. We don’t want to attack anyone. If they don’t want a protest, then they should release our children” she added.
It has been 45 days since the arrest of 14 of the 16 political prisoners incarcerated in Luanda under the presumption that they were planning a coup against president José Eduardo dos Santos.
Since then, authorities have been bending over backwards to justify the detention of the 14 activists and of the two Angolan Armed Forces officers, who were arrested a posteriori. Captain Zenóbio Zumba is still awaiting to be informally or formally charged with anything, as he is only suspected of being friends with Lieutenant Caholo.
Over the last few days, ministers from the departments of Justice, Human Rights, Foreign Affairs and the Interior, respectively Rui Mangueira, Georges Chicoti and Ângelo Tavares, have argued and publicly reiterated that the detainees are not political prisoners. The deputy attorney general of the Republic, General Hélder Pita Grós has added his voice to the chorus of denial.
Under arrest, for allegedly plotting a coup during a book club debate, 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, “Cheik Hata”, Luaty Beirão, Nelson Dibango, Nito Alves, Álvaro Dala, Sedrick de Carvalho, as well as Lieutenant Osvaldo Caholo.
The march is set to begin at 13.00 in Independence Square, passing through Avenida Comandante Valódia, Rua da Missão to the Largo da Mutamba. Initially the mothers intended to march past the National Assembly to arrive at the Palace of Justice, where the office of the attorney general, General João Maria de Sousa is located, to demand the release of their sons. The provincial government stated that the march cannot pass a 100 meters from any institution of sovereignty, such as the National Assembly, and the Palace of Justice, where the Supreme and Constitutional courts are also located.
On June 27, the mothers and relatives addressed a petition to the governor of Luanda, Graciano Domingos, informing him of the upcoming “peaceful march to protest against the detention of our relatives”.
The following day, the governor’s office responded: “It is our duty to inform the parents and relatives that under Article 47 of the Constitution of the Republic, they have the right to march without restrictions [….]”. In the same letter, the provincial government states that it is imperative that the relatives comply with the law, and strictly adhere to the proposed route of the march, “in order to maintain due security”. It also admonishes against creating “instability” against the rights of other people.
“We are really tired. The [the ruling party] MPLA is wearing us out. Our children [the detainees] are being treated inhumanly”, protested Isabel Correia, the mother of Lieutenant Osvaldo Caholo.
“Two weeks ago Osvaldo had a hearing and what they presented as evidence against him in the case were some photographs of him with members of the family, at his university graduation. How is this proof of a coup?”, the mother asked.
Isabel Correia was also indignant at the bias of state institutions. “Here, the MPLA owns the police. The MPLA owns TPA [Angolan Public Television]. The MPLA owns the office of the attorney general. When will this end? We are sick of this situation”, she complained.
“We will take to the streets, to march as mothers, to demand the release of our sons. This is what we want. We know there is no democracy in this country since the MPLA is in charge, but we will protest”, stated Isabel Correia.
On behalf of the State, the deputy attorney general of the Republic, General Hélder Pita Grós, recently withdrew the coup theory.
“They [the prisoners] wanted to change the current parameters, whether the President of the Republic, or the National Assembly, therefore it was necessary to intervene to prevent a social revolution, a situation that none of us could control, wherein students would be unable to attend class, workers could not perform their duties and everybody would suffer”, General Pita Grós said to the press.
The current condition of the prisoners
In solitary confinement in a psychiatric hospital
Nelson Dibango is in detention in a psychiatric hospital for “psychological torture”, says the father.
Nelson Dibango has been held in the Psychiatric Hospital of Luanda since July 9, allegedly due to a lack of space in other detention facilities. His father, Moisés Miguel, described his son’s situation as being one of “true psychological torture”. He spends almost 24 hours a day in solitary confinement in his cell, apart from a break of less than half an hour to receive visitors and sit in the psychologist’s office.
“Nelson is confined to his cell, because, according to medical staff, it is against the rules for him to socialize or live with mentally ill people”, revealed the father.
Also, according to the father, every day his son’s jailers allow him to spend a little time, 10 to 15 minutes, in the room where the mental patients are treated by the psychologists.
“Nelson is not allowed to have a pen and paper to write on”, denounced Moisés Miguel.
The Four in Kakila Penitentiary
Since 14 July, Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza”, Fernando Tomás “Nicola Radical”, Nuno Álvaro Dala and Osvaldo Caholo have not been allowed out of the cells for breaks except for the visits.
Victorino Matias, Mbanza Hamza’s brother explained how his brother is not allowed to receive books; that “he has only one prison uniform, which he cannot change for hygiene reasons, and he is not even allowed to be given undergarments”.
“The prison provided each prisoner with a deck of cards, but they cannot play together as they are confined to their cells and are not allowed to interact or socialise with other prisoners”, he stressed.
“As for the families, it is a living nightmare. We are under surveillance by the authorities, they follow us to work, we are being persecuted”, complained Victorino Matias.
To illustrate their terror, Victorino Matias referred to the June 20, the day his brother was arrested, while the group was discussing anti-dictatorship books. The National Police arrived at Victorino Matias’s mother’s house, accompanied by a helicopter, hovering over the house, while the officers, accompanied by Mbanza Hamza in handcuffs, searched the house.
Gedeão Cauale, Hitler Jessia Chiconda’s uncle, recalled that agents even brought a RPG-7 rocket-launcher to his house, during searches that they carried out without warrants.
In turn, Toya Dala, Nuno Álvaro Dala’s sister said that none of the four political prisoners are allowed out in the sun. According to her statement, prison service management at Kakila informed her that this was because the four detainees demanded to have their breaks together or in the company of other inmates. She was told that the ban would be lifted as soon as the prisoners agreed to take breaks out of their solitary confinement alone.
Toya Dala complained that, since last week, visiting times have been restricted to Mondays, “by orders from above”. The families claim that the prison facilities keep changing visiting days just to create more difficulties for the families as the jail is out of city.
The young woman relates that she personally gave her brother a towel and some undergarments. The last time Nuno Álvaro Dala was called in for questioning was on July 29, at the 29th Police Station in Luanda.
In the São Paulo Prison-Hospital
Henriqueta Diogo, Benedito Jeremias’s wife stated that her husband is in solitary confinement in a cell “full of mosquitos”, without permission to take breaks out of the cell.
His wife and relatives go to the prison every day to bring him food and water, as the jail lacks such essentials, but are allowed to visit him three times a week. “We have no idea what the authorities put in his food, since we are not allowed to deliver it in person. Benedito is all yellow and swollen”, commented Henriqueta Diogo.
Benedito Jeremias is the only stranger to the group of prisoners. He works for the Ministry of Geology and Mines in Moxico, and is only in Luanda to study for a degree in Political Science. He already holds a degree in Public Administration.
Nelson Dibango invited him to attend the debate on Gene Sharp’s book, and he was arrested within fifteen minutes of arrival. He has absolutely no history of taking part in marches or of socializing with members of the informal group Revolutionary Movement.
The Calomboloca Group
Calomboloca prison has the highest concentration of political prisoners, housing seven individuals. They are Albino Bingobingo, Arante Kivuvu, Domingos da Cruz, Inocêncio de Brito “Drux”, Luaty Beirão, Manuel Baptista Chivonde Nito Alves and Sedrick de Carvalho.
“My son is in the lion’s den. I can’t even eat. I’m on hunger strike for my son Domingos da Cruz, who they are saying is the ring-leader because he writes books and wants to bring about a coup with words”, lamented Francisca André João, who came all the way from Malanje province to see him.
Francisca André João has no idea why the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) confiscated 5 ATM cards and 430,000 Kwanzas from her husband. Domingos da Cruz, an academic and a journalist, has two daughters, aged 11 and 8, and his mother complained that the authorities should not punish the children. “What have they done wrong? They need to be fed and have their school fees paid. Is it a crime now to support a family?”, Francisca André João asked.
A few days ago, the political prisoners in Calomboloca were given mosquito nets and mattresses, to improve their detention conditions. Later it turned out that this was just for show for an official inspection tour.
Esperança Gonga says that her husband, Domingos da Cruz, told her that as soon as the inspection was over, the mosquito nets and mattresses were removed. “Domingos got them but didn’t even use them because he knew they were just for show. He actually thought it was because the MEP, Ana Gomes, was on a visit to Angola”, added Esperança Gonga.
In turn, Adália Chivonde, Nito Alves’s mother, stated that she was interrogated at the security checkpoint of the penitentiary, on August 3.
“They wanted to know what my son does and how he behaves. They asked me about his name [Nito Alves]. They said it is a complicated name and that we would have to change it”, denounced Adália Chivonde.
“I explained that I had given birth to my son in Katchiungo [Huambo]. I said I wouldn’t have given him a foreign name. Nito Alves was an Angolan nationalist. When his father chose the name I didn’t know that Nito Alves was a revolutionary, but his father did”, she said. “They interrogated me about his behaviour. I said that he doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t use drugs, and is very close to the family, especially his nieces and nephews and that he is in his first year at university”, she added.
According to unanimous statements from family members of all of the prisoners, they only get breaks between 15 and 30 minutes per day with absolutely no contact with other detainees. They are allowed a half hour visit from family members once a week.
“Every time we go to the prison there are new ‘orders from above’, just to make things complicated for the families”, complained Marcelina de Brito, the sister of Inocêncio de Brito “Drux”.
“For example, [on August 3] prison staff refused to take delivery of mineral water, but their canteen doesn’t always have water. The prisoners complain that the water they are given to drink always has sand in it. After some discussion, the supervisor had to be called to authorise the water to be allowed in”, states Marcelina de Brito.
Inocêncio de Brito’s sister also denounced that she was subjected to interrogation at the same prison on July 29.
“Before the visit, we were asked to speak to the prison director. When we got to his office, they told us the meeting would be with a psychologist”, she explained. Marcelina de Brito recalled that the psychologist had other plans. “First, she asked us about Inocêncio’s behaviour at home, and we said he only had a few friends.
Then, she wanted to question us about the charge against him. We refused to answer anything else because we don’t know what their [the authorities] agenda is”.
Cheik Hata in solitary confinement in Comarca
Rita Hata stressed that her brother, the hip-hop artist José Hata “Cheik Hata”, is suffering from “a mental breakdown due to the fact that he is in solitary confinement”.
According to his sister, the prison re-education service has delivered the books his family sends to Cheik Hata, and that two weeks ago, authorities granted him permission to sunbathe, alone. “He is not permitted to speak to other prisoners; he is always alone in his cell. He is allowed visitors once a week, on Wednesdays, and the guards allow us to talk as much as we want”, explained Rita Hata.
Captain Zenóbio Zumba
Since his arrest on 30 June, for his alleged friendship with Lieutenant Osvaldo Caholo, his former university colleague, Captain Zenóbio Lázaro Muhondo Zumba has remained unreachable, by order of the Judiciary Military Police.
“To this day, I have not been allowed to speak to my husband. They will not even allow the lawyer retained by the family to see him”, revealed Suzana Zumba.
“Zenóbio is not allowed to have visitors. We are only permitted to bring food to be delivered to him every day, but we can’t even see him”, reiterated his wife.
Captain Zenóbio Zumba, 34 years old, works in the office of Information and Analysis of the Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISM), attached to the General Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA). He has a degree in International Relations from UTANGA [Technical University of Angola], where he and Lieutenant Osvaldo Caholo studied together. This connection was enough to get him arrested one day when he arrived at work, thinking it was just another day on the job.