Independence Celebrations Marred by Crackdown on Human Rights

President José Eduardo dos Santos’s tightening stranglehold on freedom of expression in Angola and his government’s decades of fear and repression will cast an indelible stain on the 40th anniversary of the country’s independence, said Amnesty International today.

As dignitaries and foreign leaders gather in the capital Luanda to mark four decades of independence, at least 16 activists continue to languish in Angolan jails.

“40 years after independence, many Angolans still have a long way before they realise their human rights freedoms. Those who express views that differ from those of the regime are subjected to brutal treatment. Independence should also be about people being allowed to freely express themselves,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

“Many human rights defenders are suffering in jail merely for asking for accountability and respect for human rights. The state is using police and the judiciary to entrench fear and to silence critical voices.”

Those who have challenged President José Eduardo dos Santos’s government in recent years have been subjected to extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture by state security forces.

Authorities continue to use repressive tactics including arbitrary arrests and detentions, politicization of the judiciary and other forms of harassment and intimidation to suppress freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

A notorious case involves 15 activists who have been in jail since June 2015 after being arrested in Luanda in connection with a meeting to discuss governance issues. One of the activists, Luaty Beirão, spent 36 days on hunger strike in protest against their arbitrary detention.

The 15 were formally charged on 16 September, but their lawyers were only officially informed of the charges on 30 September. The activists were held in pre-trial detention for longer than the 90 days permitted by law. They were kept in solitary confinement for several days and were allegedly subjected to ill-treatment. They are due to appear in court on 16 November 2015 to face charges of preparing a “rebellion and a coup attempt” against the president.

In a separate case, on 14 September 2015, the Cabinda Provincial Court sentenced human rights defender José Marcos Mavungo to six years in prison after he was convicted of “rebellion”. He was arrested on 14 March 2015 for helping to organize a peaceful demonstration against bad governance in Cabinda Province.

Amnesty International considers the 16 aforementioned activists to be prisoners of conscience, whom the authorities must release immediately and unconditionally.

Journalist and human rights defender, Rafael Marques de Morais, was convicted by the Luanda Provincial Tribunal on 28 May 2015 for committing “slanderous denunciation” against 12 individuals, including members of the armed forces. He was tried following the publication of his book, Blood Diamonds, which alleged that military generals and two mining companies were complicit in human rights abuses committed in the diamond fields of Lundas province. He was sentenced to 15 days in prison for each charge, resulting in six months in prison. The Court suspended the sentence for two years.

“The human rights situation in Angola is in serious decline. Citizens’ right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly has been taken away by a state determined to crush dissent. There is no independence without freedom,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.

“Angola must uphold its legal obligations to protect human rights as enshrined in the country’s constitution as well as regional and international instruments that it has signed up to. Authorities must not violate citizens’ human rights with impunity.”