Don’t Look, Don’t Point! The Savagery of an Encounter with the Police

Malungo Sapalalo says with immense pride, his voice cracking, that he is from Huila, a province in Southern Angola that has long been a magnet for tourists and campers, an area many describe as heavenly within national standards.

The search for work drew him to the country’s capital, Luanda, where he has encountered hell: arbitrary detention and torture at the hands of police officers.  It could have been worse.  He witnessed officers beating a fellow detainee to death.

This is Malungo Sapalalo’s story.

On November 5 last year, around midday, Sapalalo was busy at his second job as a loader near the ” Onze de Novembro” football stadium (named for Angolan Independence Day, November 11).  He was loading construction blocks for delivery to building sites.

While resting between loads, he and four other workers got into a conversation about vehicles, comparing the relative speeds of a Toyota Hilux versus a Mitsubishi.  “I pointed to a pickup truck, a Toyota Hilux, that was passing on the motorway”, says Malungo. “My colleagues went on with their jobs, leaving me behind”.

Moments later, “the same pickup truck turned around and stopped in front of me.  The occupants asked why I had pointed at them.  I told them that I and my friends had been comparing the speed of different cars. They asked me to get into the pick-up. I thought it was work; that they were taking me to a building site”. But this was no work detail.  “They were, in fact, police officers in plain clothes”.

Malungo Sapalalo was taken to the Tanque Serra Police Station, in the nearby municipality of Viana on the outskirts of Luanda.

That was when his nightmare experience began.

“Two uniformed agents kicked me”, he recounts, “to soften me up”.  Then they put him into a position known as the ‘airplane torture’: “They tied my hands behind my back, one on top of the other with the elbows  stuck out like the wings of an airplane.  The rope was then passed under the anus and tied around the genitals.”  He was placed against a wall and struck several times with the side of a machete.

“If I moved my hands, the rope pulled on my penis and testicles, so I could not make any move.”

“That night”, he continues: “they took me to a large hole. The policemen told me that they had already killed two people in that place that day. They placed me in the hole and began throwing sand into it.  It was only at 4 a.m. that they moved me to a cell.”

Others were already inside the cell.  Malungo Sapalalo says that at this point eight young people were taken out to be beaten, one of them later succumbing to his injuries.   He recalls only two of his cell mates’ names,  Sambila and Deque. “One of the young people ended up dying from the beating that he got”.

“The police officers informed their commander, then started criminal proceedings for the seven and myself; I was added as a replacement for the individual who had been killed”, recounts Malungo, adding, “They [the police] accused us of possessing firearms and took us to the Benfica police station where we were questioned by a prosecutor.”

He says that during the interrogation “the prosecutor asked about the firearms; but there weren’t any. He asked who the complainant was; there was nobody. That was it. The following day they sent us back to the Viana prison.”

On January 2, Malungo Sapalalo was transferred to the Luanda Central Penitentiary and, along with five other detainees, was immediately taken to the infirmary because of his fragile health. He spends the entire night coughing and says he has sharp chest pains, which he attributes to the ill treatment to which he was subjected.

“I am here [Luanda Central Penitentiary] without knowing what is happening with me, what they intend to do with me. They put me in the place of a dead person – and I am charged with people I do not know,” he laments.

Sadly, Malungo Sapalalo’s account is no longer unusual for Luanda.  Too often, rights workers hear similar tales of injustice involving arbitrary detention and inhumane treatment on the most spurious of grounds.  What respect can there be for a Justice system in which the police are beyond the rule of law? Surely it’s time to put an end to this unbridled savagery!