The Crackdown on Youth Activists and the Indictment of the Sandwich
Sol Wachtler, a former chief judge in New York state once remarked that a Grand Jury could “indict a ham sandwich” if necessary – a reference to United States Grand Juries being too easily swayed by the wishes of prosecutors.
When reading the indictment of Case No 125-A/15 referring to Domingos Cruz, Sedrick de Carvalho, Albano Bingobingo and sixteen other citizens (among them 33 year-old Luaty Beirão who, in the charges, has been reborn and is now apparently 19) one gets the impression that a sandwich has been accused of a crime.
We will therefore have to make an effort to understand the indictment, considering that it is a legal document drafted by people who have presumably mastered the law and know what they are doing.
Let us look at the indictment from a technical point of view, trying to see whether it is possible that it reaches a valid legal conclusion or if we are, after all, dealing with a baseless farce.
Essentially, seventeen young people have been accused of preparatory acts. It is worth noting that preparatory acts do not constitute a crime, but are a form of a crime. There is certainly a mistake here.
What, then, are the preparatory acts that call for the punishment? According to the indictment, there are three:
1) Plotting to overthrow and substitute the office holders of the sovereign institutions of the Angolan state;
2) Producing a course entitled “Course for Activism to Acquire Tools to Destroy a Dictator and Preventing a New Dictatorship.”
3) Attending the same course.
However, a serious scrutiny of these preparatory acts brings to light difficulties that cannot be overlooked.
It is stated that the conspiracy to overthrow the state was planned and hatched in a garden in front of the office of the Viana Municipal Administration. Could a conspiracy meeting be held in front of a public municipal building? This affirmation lacks credibility.
The course manual, despite its pompous title, is a summary of Gene Sharp’s work “From Dictatorship to Democracy.” Gene Sharp is an American academic who has dedicated his life to studying non-violent ways to make transitions from dictatorships to democracy. Could the summary of a work by an American author on non-violence constitute an act of rebellion? This assertion, too, lacks credibility.
The third aspect has to do with attending the same course. Did they learn to make bombs or to fire Kalashnikovs in this course? Certainly not. The topics were “Collective Trust” and “Managing for Action.” These are not topics meant prepare people to overthrow a government. What preparatory acts are these that do not go beyond meetings in gardens and translating American books? Punishment for a preparatory act is an exception and not the rule, and has, therefore, to be approached with care and not in a casual way.
Preparatory acts must be part of a final objective – that is, committing a crime. Preparatory acts presuppose the intention to carry out the crime; they cannot, therefore, be mere declarations of intent or expressions of unhappiness. They have to be part of an intention and process to undertake a crime that will evolve until the crime is carried out. This is the question, and the truth is that the few facts that figure in the indictment do not constitute preparation for a crime, a rebellion or any similar act. Meetings in a garden in front of a municipal office; reading the summary of a book about non-violence, and two or three lectures on this book do not serve to carry out any revolution.
Preparatory acts for a rebellion would have involved secret meetings and the recruiting of police and military figures; the stocking of arms; military training; creating of guerrilla cells; and so forth. What we have here are meetings of young people who are unhappy with the regime, and they expressed themselves based on the supposition that there is freedom of expression. What we now have is an attack on freedom of expression disguised as an effort to punish preparatory acts. The Angolan government does not have the right to directly access its citizens’ thoughts and try to control everything. We have before us a legal farce meant to scare a population that is increasingly unhappy with the way the government has been managing the economy. Any sensible judge will acquit these young people. However, the judicial sector is often not sensible and this injustice might serve as a catalyst for the youth to raise the flag of liberty for which they have been fighting.