Luanda Central Jail’s Torture Chamber: The Re-Education Room

“They took me to the Police Station in the Nova Vida (New Life) Project where some policemen punched and kicked me,” says 28 year-old Benjamin Filipe, as he recalls the events of August 20th, 2012.

The young man was working as a mechanic in a private workshop and lived in Fubu District at the back end of the Nova Vida Project, south of the Angolan capital, Luanda.  That day “the police went to my home, saying I possessed a weapon and had committed a crime”, he explains.

“They kicked me in the head so much that my ears bled”, he says.  “And then after what they called this “softening up”, one of the policemen took some pliers and pulled out three fingernails: from the index finger, middle finger and little finger of my right hand”.

Such ill-treatment merits the definition of torture.  And it was only after this that the detainee was informed by the public prosecutor’s stenographer that he was considered a thief.  “But to this day no-one has informed me what I am supposed to have stolen”.  I’m going crazy, really.  My police case number is 5711/012”.

After six weeks in custody at the Nova Vida Project station, the detainee was transferred to Luanda Central Penitentiary (Comarca Central de Luanda, or CCL).  “Once at the CCL, they called me to the penal control desk and that was when I saw the document relating to my case,  lying on top of the desk, with the word “Theft” written on it.  It didn’t say theft of what.”

On January 20th, 2015, Benjamin Filipe was summoned to the CCL’s “Re-education Room” for questioning.  “They asked me if I smoked weed.  I answered that the person selling weed in the cell, was the friend of the CCL security chief.  When Chief Guilherme (Guilherme Domingos) heard this, he cuffed my arms and legs”, Filipe says.

“He then took an electric prod and began torturing my entire body.  I wet myself and fainted from receiving so many electric shocks.  That was how they sent me back to my cell.”

From taxi driver to taxi thief

On December 15th, 2013, 36  year-old Moniz Manuel Bis was driving an informal taxi minivan (a “Candongueiro”) along the Kikolo -Estalagem route in Viana, Luanda.  He says he was approached by a young man to transport his family and their merchandise (sacks of rice, millet flour and corn, and jerrycans of cooking oil). On arrival at their destination, the young man announced that he had just realized that he must have been robbed and relieved of his wallet.

“He handed over his laptop as collateral and told me that he would phone me the following day to give me the 20,000 kwanza fare and get his computer back.   The next day he called me to arrange the exchange right in front of the Viana municipal police headquarters (temporarily housed at the Kapalanca police station). “

When the taxi driver pulled up, “the police came out and arrested us both.  They accused us of having stolen a vehicle.  I explained the circumstances and the police officer said that they would put me in a holding cell until the state attorney could question me and then I would be sent on my way.  I really thought it was just a case of clarifying a misunderstanding”, he says.

Instead, he was led to an interrogation room: “One of the policemen picked up a knobkerrie (a stick with the end carved into a knob) and began beating me with it.  I was hit with the knobbed end on my back and knees”, says Moniz Manuel Bis.

Moniz describes what happened next: “They demanded 30,000 kwanzas to let me go.  I explained that my wife was sick and I had no-one at home who could bring me the money,“ he says.   For three days he was subjected to routine torture.  “They would slap and punch my face until my eyes wept blood.  They even used clubs on me.  These weren’t just beatings.  It was attempted murder.”

“On the third day”, says Moniz, “I was forced to sign a document without being given the chance to read it”.  “The instructor told me it was after 5pm and too late and he was too busy with a telephone call from his boss.  “Plus I couldn’t see too well, with my eyes swollen and bloody from the ill-treatment.  So I just went ahead and signed”.

Later, he discovered that the young man who had hired his taxi was also still detained in a neighbouring cell.  Both were transferred to Luanda Central Penitentiary, the CCL.  “I only know him by the initials LG.  He was set free on October 28th, 2014.  His family made a payment at the police station and he was released.  My case [Case No. 9703/2013] is still with the SIC [Criminal Investigation Service).

Over the next few months this detainee found it difficult so focus in daylight, saying “my eyes hurt constantly”.  Then he blurts out:  “I’m locked up by chance.  My head is bursting.  My wife is missing and for all I know she may have found someone else.  I have seven children and I don’t know where they are because I am here locked up”.

Law and torture

Angola’s Constitution and laws prohibit torture in any shape or form.  According to Rui Verde, Maka Angola’s legal analyst, “any person committing torture is committing a crime, even if that person is following orders with the intent to reveal a crime, or to uncover something very important.”

The jurist adds:  “There is nothing in law that justifies the police or authorities’ use of beatings, electric shocks  or the extraction of fingernails.”   “The Constitution declares that the moral, intellectual and physical integrity of the person is inviolate.  Article 36, No. 3b explicitly guarantees [the citizen] the right not to be tortured.  And it should be noted that these rules are directly applicable to and binding upon all the authorities.”

“There is no law or ruling of any kind that could diminish this precept.  Torture is illegal in Angola.  Full Stop.  Whomsoever commits an act of torture is committing a crime of bodily harm (at the very least) and should be brought to justice and face the appropriate punishment as stipulated by Angolan law.