The Regime’s Diplomatic and Propaganda Offensive Abroad

In the last several weeks, the Angolan government has engaged in an international propaganda campaign to counter what it has called a coordinated effort to smear its alleged good reputation. Indeed, the newly-appointed Ambassador-at-large, Luvualu de Carvalho, has been in Portugal pointing accusatory fingers at supposed ill-meaning interest groups that were misrepresenting the country’s political leaders.

The issue gaining the most exposure currently — and the one causing Luanda the biggest headache — is the prolonged detention of the young political prisoners.  One of them, Luaty Beirão, recently concluded a 36-day hunger strike to protest his unjust treatment.  Ambassador Luvualu argued that matters were being blown out of proportion, that the state had a solid case against him and the so-called Angola 15, and that there would be a free, fair, and openly transparent trial.

Supporters of the Angola’s 15 insist that, firstly, their prolonged detention contravenes Angolan Law.  Secondly, that the charges that the prosecution was laying out were so absurd that they could not stand proper scrutiny in an independent court.  There were also humanitarian considerations— while in detention, several of the prisoners had developed serious health concerns, perhaps due to the torture they had allegedly undergone at the hands of Angola’s security and police personnel.

What, then, have we seen so far? On the first day of the trial, the defense turned up not having been able to see the evidence against the Angola 15.  David Mendes, a lawyer on the defense team, complained openly that his side stood before the court unprepared because it had not had prior access to the file case, which is standard and lawful procedure in Angola. Still, on the first day, the government barred representatives from the United States, the European Union and Portugal from observing the court proceedings, brazenly flouting the fact that an open and transparent court hearing is essential to the right of a fair trial— a right that is guaranteed in Angola’s own constitution, not to mention a range of international human rights conventions that Angola has both signed and ratified. Outside observers were also barred on the second day of trial. Journalists were only allowed to take pictures and film the defendants before the trial began, after which they were ushered out of the courtroom, and told to return only for the reading of the verdict.

Knowing that this was a trial, which would surely draw worldwide attention, Angolan authorities chose a courtroom with a limited capacity of seventy people, insisting that each of the accused only had the right to the presence of two relatives.  Prominent figures that have been campaigning for the prisoners’ rights, such as Angolan rapper MCK, were also prevented from entering the courtroom.

Of course, we have all seen this before and we know how it works in tightly controlled, repressive environments like Angola. These sorts of state-led initiatives designed to prevent lawful coverage of important trials is nothing new.  Often, these decisions are attributed to minor government officials, individuals who can be easily blamed for a “lack of experience” finesse by Luanda’s more polished spin masters.

Throughout Angola’s history, there have been several major trials that have been attended by vast, worldwide audiences. Decades ago, Angola did hold trials that had live radio coverage, and were broadcast by the Angolan Public Television, much like the popular soap operas of today. Transparency and openness was, at least,  somewhat in fashion, albeit, only when it suited the government’s needs.

Let’s be clear: the Angolan government has had months to prepare for this trial.  The authorities are very well aware of what they are doing.  What they should not be allowed to do is stage a patently unjust trial with a predetermined result. Meanwhile, the minister of Foreign Affairs, Georges Chicoty, has been dispatched to cozy up with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, perhaps proving that President Dos Santos and his coterie can flout their own legal system, international legal standards, and once again get away with anything.