Attempts at Peaceful Protests are Now “Undemocratic” in Angola

The families of Angolan political prisoners are appealing against the decision of the Luanda Provincial Governor, Graciano Domingos, banning the protest and vigil set for the 26 of September.   Graciano Domingos argued that the gathering would be undemocratic.

This is yet another episode in the famous case of the young activists who were arrested last June on politically motivated charges that they were plotting a coup against President Dos Santos. The youth had assembled at a book club reading, and were discussing materials on non-violent strategies against repression when they were detained.

“We would like to make it known that the case is still going through the appropriate  legal procedures; therefore, we need to wait patiently for the final decision on the basis of the law, and for the defence of the accused on the basis of their constitutional rights,” the governor said.

The law permits 90 days of preventive detention without formal charges. Now that this period has passed, the defence lawyers have sought their clients’ release on the basis of the illegality of their imprisonment.

However, Graciano Domingos stated in his decision that “we do not think that it is democratic that the legal institutions should be coerced in any way that does not fit in with the law.”

“Therefore, on the basis of the Law of Protest and Assembly, the event cannot be allowed,” he declared.

On this occasion, the families were divided into two groups.  The first informed the authorities that it intended to hold a vigil in the square outside the Sagrada Familia [Sacred Family] Catholic Church in Luanda. The second group sent similar information saying, however, that it would be holding a vigil in front of the Nossa Senhora do Carmo [Our Lady of Mount Carmel] Catholic Church. Both requests were turned down on the grounds that they were “undemocratic”.

Rui Verde, a law professor, said: “ It is a shame that the Luanda provincial government has been taking several illegal positions in banning the mothers’ protest.”

He mentioned Article 47 of the Angolan constitution as being clear on the issue of protests. “All citizens can assemble to protest without needing previous authorization. The organizers of a protest should only inform the authorities; they are not meant to ask for authorization.”

Rui Verde said the Luanda Provincial Government only has to “come up with directives for the traffic and to guarantee security.” Rui Verde went on to explain that  “the constitution is clear, and the authorities are bound to respect and go by it.”

“Democracy is more than the holding of elections every five years; it is also respect for the rule of law. When this does not happen we do not have a democracy; we have fascism”, Professor Verde argued.

History of bannings

This is the third time the relatives of the political prisoners have tried to protest.

First, on 28 July 2015, Governor Graciano Domingo allowed for a Mothers’ March to be held on 8 August at Independence Square in Luanda. “ We would like to inform to the parents that the march is authorized under article 47 [of the Constitution],” the governor wrote, thus acknowledging the constitutional rights of the relatives.

A few days later, on 7 August, the governor backtracked. He argued that the march was going to go past the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s office. Graciano Domingo deprived the families of constitutional right that he had previously recognized, saying: “The relevant authorities may prevent the holding of meetings or protests one hundred metres from sovereign bodies, military camps, prisons or the headquarters of political parties.”

Despite the mothers having changed the route – saying the march would now end at Mutamba Square – the national police suppressed the protest march with much violence. Some of the mothers were beaten with truncheons. Adelia Chivonde, mother of the political prisoner Nito Alves and Deolinda Luisa, mother of the political prisoner Benedito Jeremias, were the most serverely beaten. The police unleashed a dog against Deolinda Luisa, which bit her on one hand.

On 27 August, the Luanda Provincial Government banned another protest that was going to be held on the following day, the president’s birthday.  The provincial authorities justified another ban by arguing that the new protest was scheduled for a time that did not comply with the law. “From the communication sent by the petitioners, it has been noted that the demonstration will be held at 15:00 on 28 August. This will be on Friday and goes against the law.”

The Luanda Provincial Government nevertheless allowed a meeting on the same day at the same time, which was called by the ruling MPLA in favour of President José Eduardo dos Santos. Apart from a concert, this event also involved a motorbike procession. During the event, at which Maka Angola was present, the Master of Ceremonies said there would be weekly demonstrations in support of the MPLA and president Dos Santos at Independence Square until November. In other words, the Luanda Provincial Government has taken a decision on the use of the square that favours of the MPLA to prevent other groups or citizens from carrying out their constitutional rights at the same location.

Isabel Correia, mother of the political prisoner Osvaldo Caholo, lamented the way the authorities use the law as a tool of repression against citizens.  “The law is always against us – we, well-meaning citizens. Jesus, we have no idea what we are going to do next!”

THE 15+1

The “case of the fifteen plus one” involves the following detainees: Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza”; Albano Bingobingo; Arante Kivuvu; Benedito Jeremias; Domingos da Cruz; Fernando Tomás “Nicola Radical”; Hitler Jessy Chiconda “Itler Samussuku”; Inocencio Brito “Drux”; José Hata “Cheik Hata”; Luaty Beirão; Nelson Dibango; Nito Alves; Nuno Alvaro Dala; Osvaldo Caholo  and Sedrick de Carvalho.   Captain Zenobia Zumba, political prisoner 16, was detained later for supposedly being a friend of Osvaldo Caholo.

At the time, the attorney general, Army General João Maria de Sousa, said publicly that the young activists  had been caught in flagrante preparing to overthrow the government of José Eduardo dos Santos. Since then, the legal authorities have been finding it hard to formalize the accusations against the young activists.