Barefoot Activists’ Trial Begins

The young Angolan activists, on trial on charges of rebellion, used the courtroom to continue with their protest against the regime; yesterday they walked barefoot and had messages on their prison uniforms.

The public applauded when the young “Revus” [revolutionaries] as they are known, were brought in, and one of them, Benedito Jeremias, had a prison t-shirt with the following inscription on the back “In dubio pro reo” (The principle that one is innocent until found guilty.)

Like his 14 detained fellows — and two young females accused of the same crime but who have waited for trial under conditional freedom — Benedito has been detained since June on charges of preparing for rebellion, and making an attempt on the president’s life. The charges are punishable by up to three years — and allow for the accused to be free on bail while waiting for trial.

Dressed in the usual prison uniforms, most of the 15 youths came into the courtroom with bare feet. The judge thought this was a disrespectful act.

Benedito Jeremias was the first to explain what had happened. He said this was a form of protest because of the prolonged preventive detention they had been subjected to.  Luaty Beirão, who had been on a hunger strike for 36 days added, “We spent five months [the time they have been in preventive detention] waiting for boots. We were only provided with them today at 4 AM, before we started off for here. We do not have any need for them.”

The prisoners spent several hours in the buses of the prison services outside the courtroom in Benfica, a suburb outside Luanda. The courtroom was filled with journalists, relatives and ordinary people who broke into spontaneous applause when the prisoners walked in. The prisoners, who were divided into two groups, kept smiling back at the gathering.

“This power belongs to the people”, journalist Sedrick Domingos de Carvalho, one of the defendants, shouted back.

All of the 17 have been charged by the Angolan Attorney General’s office with preparing a rebellion, a coup d’état and creating a National Salvation Government. The defense stated that the list of the National Salvation Government had been written by none of the accused but by someone on social networks.

“We are talking about the right to freedom of expression and the right to information. Or, rather, the right for one to be able to express and share freely one’s opinions through words, images or other means,” said Luis Nascimento who, with his colleague, Walter Tondela, has been defending the activists.

The reading of the charges represented a farcical moment, especially when the name Julino Kalupeteka was cited as part of the Government of National Salvation. Kalupeteka, who is leader of an illegal sect, has been detained since April. The courtroom fell into laughter when Kalupeteka’s name was read out as president of the so-called Government of National Salvation. Several of the accused as well as members of the defense also figure in this list.

David Mendes, a member of the defense team and who figures in the list of the “appointees” smiled during the reading of the list. He then complained that he had come to the trial as defense without having had access to the charging documents.

” We are not able to provide an adequate defense because we have not had access to all the right documents of the case,” said David Mendes to a bench with several judges.

Meantime, Benedito Jeremias was wearing a shirt with the following inscription on the back,” No dictatorship can prevent the development of a society for ever.”

Despite various doubts, the trial of the activists began today, and will have daily sessions until Friday.