The Comedians’ Justice

Over two days (Thursday and Friday), the clerk of the court read out some 90 pages of the 187-page manuscript of the “Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoiding a New Dictatorship – Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola,” written by political prisoner Domingos da Cruz, during his trial in which he and 16 other youth activists are charged with plotting a rebellion to overthrow the government and attempting to assassinate the president.

The manuscript, which served as a manual for the youths’ debates on peaceful means of protest, is being used as the primary evidence of the youths’ intentions to seize power through violent means. Last June, the police arrested 15 of them. The attorney general, army general João Maria de Sousa, and President dos Santos, publicly accused the youth of plotting a coup. Two young female activists were later charged with the same crimes, but remain free while on trial.

As the reading goes on, the public prosecutor Isabel Fançony, who covers her face with a wig and sunglasses, does not hide her boredom. She takes naps in front on the audience. So does the presiding judge Januário Domingos, and his assistants.

Much of the audience hired to fill up the courtroom also indulge in naps and mumble complaints about the proceedings. They are there to prevent relatives, friends and supporters of the defendants, as well as diplomats and observers, from attending the trial. The police brusquely chase these unwanted spectators away for “lack of space” in the room.

This is a trial in which the authorities have invested so much  – political capital, public relations and diplomatic offensive – to prove that, indeed, there is an attempt by this rag-tag band of brothers to assassinate the president.

Of the charges, the judge explains that the youths intended to engage in “street riots under the guise of generalised mass protests, with the burning of tyres in designated streets of Angolan cities, extending to the head offices of the bodies of sovereignty, including the presidential palace.”

Further along, the indictment explains how the youths intended smoke the president out of the presidential palace with burning tyres “where they aimed to enter to evict the president if he resisted the pressure from the protesters”.

The charge sheet makes it sound easy. But how would the youth, simply by reading a manual on nonviolence and burning tyres, overthrow a president who commands the most militarized regime in Sub-Saharan Africa? This year alone, the government has allocated over US $6 billion of the state budget to defense, making up 12.61 percent of the total budget. In Sub-Saharan Africa no other country spends more in the military than Angola, which has an army of some 100,000 soldiers, and a presidential guard that is, in itself, a smaller but better equipped and paid army. Members of the presidential guard earn four times more than the regular soldier.

“I can’t make any claims to the ideas contained in the book. With the exception of a few chapters, most of the ideas are those of the American philosopher Gene Sharp taken from his work “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” writes Domingos da Cruz in an introductory note to Sharp’s work.

“The political philosophy for the liberation of Angola is extremely pacific, fraternal, but realist”, summarizes the author in his attempt to adapt the teachings of Gene Sharp to the Angolan reality. Besides Sharp, the manual is an assemblage of nonviolent lessons taken from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and other peace promoting iconic figures.

At some point, one of the defense lawyers addressed the judge to say that the reading was self-explanatory on the dogged defense of nonviolence by the youths. But the judge wanted the reading to be carried out to make a point to the author. During the questioning, Domingos da Cruz told the judge to read the book, so he obliged by having the court clerk do it for him.

The defense cried foul, and called the move an evasive procedure for the court, which is struggling to come up with evidence against the youths.

After a week of the trial only three of the 17 defendants have been heard. Those following the procedures keep wondering when are the authorities going to present any evidence that makes any sense.

On the second day of the trial, judge Januário Domingos exhibited a YouTube video of 19-year-old Nito Alves berating the Angolan regime as dictatorial, during a conference he attended in Brazil. What does that have to do with a coup or any attempt to assassinate the president?  This is a question still to be answered.

In spite all the investments in public relations and a diplomatic offensive, which has included a meeting between the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and his Angolan counterpart, Georges Chicoti, while the trial is ongoing, the abusive behavior of the regime remains the same.

More information has emerged now that the police tasered political prisoner Hitler Jessy Chiconde, prior to him standing in the dock, and left him locked in a police van, unconscious for an hour. A second prisoner, Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza”, was also assaulted by the police, but the latter publicly explained that the bruises exhibited in court by the defendant were due to his struggling with the handcuffs, as he resisted getting into the van, and had to be manhandled.

Outside the courtroom, a group wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Justice without Pressure”, sponsored by the ruling MPLA and protected by the police, cheers on the judge and the prosecutors to act at will.

In parliament, MPLA approves a resolution against the European Parliament for having passed a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Angola, including the arrest of the 15 and the wild charges against them.

To make it more credible, MPLA binds the same resolution to a condemnation of the Paris terrorist attacks. The opposition votes against the resolution, and are publicly accused of supporting terrorists.

There are 14 more activists still to be heard in court, and more acts are to follow on what one of their mothers calls “this theater”.

These are the comedians who use the judiciary to terrorise those who do not laugh in support of their abuses. Now, they have deployed boredom as a weapon of psychological torture as well. Just like the public prosecutor, I too need a wig to cover my face in shame.