Justice Denied Amid Compassion Fatigue

Remember this man?   He’s Angolan activist Manuel Chivonde Baptista Nito Alves – one of the defendants in a trial known abroad as the “Luanda Book Club” case.  He was one of 15 young men arrested for “plotting rebellion against the President” in June 2015 as they discussed Gene Sharp’s Book about peaceful ways to overturn dictatorships

Nito Alves and his cohort (two others were subsequently added to the docket) have already endured seven months of ill treatment in preventative detention and a stop-start show trial so incompetent that witnesses were only notified by the state television newspaper reports that they must give evidence.

The international outcry finally embarrassed the regime and just before Christmas, they passed a law on preventative detention which allowed the ‘15+2’ (as the expanded group are dubbed in Luanda) to be placed under house arrest for the remainder of the trial. It was seen as compassionate, and served to shush the world’s media who had gathered to report this Kafka-esque piece of theatre. They moved on.

After the Christmas adjournment, the trial stuttered back into life in the early part of 2016, amid delays due to the non-appearance of witnesses, who had not been formally notified they were being called to testify. Most only found out they were going to be called when the witness list was broadcast on the state TV news and an ad on the state daily newspaper Jornal de Angola.

Eventually, Nito Alves’s father was called to the stand.  And while the father was testifying as to whether he had been formally questioned during the preparatory hearings, the son spoke aloud: “ I do not fear for my life; this trial is a farce”.

That was enough for Judge Januário Domingos to rule that Nito Alves had “interjected disrespectfully” to “belittle and slander the court.”   Finding him guilty of contempt, he sent the young man straight back to prison to serve a six-month jail term, while also imposing a 50,000 kwanza fine. A protest by the defence lawyer, pleading in mitigation the intense pressure of the preceding months, was to no avail.

But then Nito Alves has history:  In 2013 he was detained for two months for printing a t-shirt critical of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s President of 36 years (and counting).  His very name is a slap in the face of Angola’s ruling party, an ever-present reminder of his namesake’s attempted 1977 factional uprising within the ruling MPLA.

So after 180 days in detention and 51 days under house arrest, Nito Alves (who has yet to be found guilty of any crime!) is back behind bars, where has already experienced ill-treatment at the hands of club-wielding prison guards for whom dishing out a beating is part of their normal routine.