RIghts Groups Demand the Release of 15 Youth Activists

The Angolan government should promptly release 15 rights activists arrested in June 2015, for meeting to discuss books on peaceful resistance, and drop the charges against them, seven national and international human rights groups said today.

The groups urged the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, due to meet in Banjul, Gambia, from November 4 to 18, 2015, to pass a resolution calling for the immediate release of the Angolan activists and an end to threats, harassment, and intimidation of human rights defenders in the country.

“Reading and discussing books is not a crime and no one participating in such a peaceful activity should face arrest,” said Maria Lúcia da Silveira, director of the Associação Justiça Paz e Democracia (AJPD), an Angola-based rights group. “The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should inform the Angolan government that free speech and peaceful assembly are the rights of all Africans, including Angolans.”

The 15 rights activists, many of whom were members of the Revolutionary Movement, a group of friends and activists who have been holding anti-government protests since 2011, were arrested after participating in a meeting at a book shop, on June 20, in Luanda, the capital. Two other female activists who took part in the meeting were also questioned in August, but not jailed.

In September 2015, the activists were accused of “preparing acts of rebellion and plotting against the president and state institutions,” which are considered crimes against the security of the Angolan state. If found guilty, they could face heavy prison sentences of up to 12 years.

Some of the 15 jailed activists were kept in pre-trial detention for more than 90 days, exceeding the 90 days allowed by Angolan law. Their trial is due to start on November 16.

At least four of the jailed activists went on hunger strike to protest their arrest and detention. Henrique Luaty Beirão ended his hunger strike on October 27, after 36 days, following requests by his family and friends. He remains in serious condition. Albano Bingo Bingo is receiving treatment after becoming ill as a consequence of several days without eating. The other members of the group are in stable condition.

On October 23, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, issued a statement urging the Angolan government to release the activists.

Forst’s statement was supported by the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, David Kaye; the UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez; and the chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong.

The human rights groups called on the government of Angola to cooperate fully with the recommendations of the UN special rapporteurs.

The charges against the activists violated their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. These rights are enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Angola ratified in 1992, and in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“The Angolan government cannot pick and choose which parts of the African Charter it wants to apply,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The only way forward is for the Angolan government to release the activists and drop the trumped up charges against them.”
The signatory organizations are:

  • The Association for Justice Peace and Democracy (AJPD)
  • SOS Habitat Angola
  • Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
  • Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
  • The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  • Human Rights Watch