Pen Drive Lands Child in Viana Prison

Bastos Mateus Elias has been held in Viana Prison for nearly two months on suspicion of stealing a pen drive. He’s just been transferred to the tents, which serve as a makeshift infirmary and a cell for the sick among others. Conditions in the tents are no better than the two other areas he has already passed through since being detained.

Initially he was in the holding pen, where prisoners say sexual assaults, or demands for sexual favours in exchange for food, are commonplace.  He was later transferred to Cell D6, where he shared it with nearly 50 other adult prisoners, some of them on remand, others already convicted and serving their sentences.

But Bastos Mateus Elias was born on January 11, 2003 – he is only just thirteen years old.

His mother, Samba Mateus told Maka Angola that she was away in Kwanza Sul province when her son was arrested.  She went to the prison to find him.  “He told me that he had been accused of stealing a pen drive.”  He was questioned at the police station in the Calauenda-Papa Simao district.

“I never saw him have a pen drive at home.  It doesn’t seem logical that they would put a child in jail over such a thing,” says Samba Mateus.  The 36 year-old mother of five, says her family is too poor to hire a lawyer to fight to get her son freed.  “If you could see our living conditions, you would understand my situation,” she told Maka Angola.  “If I had the means to pay, my son would be out of jail already.”

The boy’s father separated from the family more than a decade ago and doesn’t even know about his son’s arrest.  According to his mother “Bastos Mateus is a child who never argues back.  At home he is always well behaved.”  Before this, her main worry was that he didn’t attend school, in part because of the lack of money, and in part, as she says, “because he doesn’t really have a head for studies and barely got through second grade.”

One of the prisoners who is serving his sentence in Cell D6 (whose name is withheld for his own safety) told Maka Angola, that he and some other fellow inmates protected Bastos: “because of the risk of sexual assault in the holding pen, orders were given for the boy to be moved into our cell in the hope he would be safer there.”

But then the prison authorities realized that the political prisoners (the Luanda Book Club “revus”) in a nearby cell block had learned of the presence of a minor and were trying to find out the details so they could make an official complaint.  “So they transferred him again.”

Maka Angola contacted lawyer Luisa Rangel about the case.  Her response was that “the judicial system is going from bad to worse. The public prosecutor should have dealt with this and resolved it immediately. To put a minor suspected of stealing a pen drive, in the same cell as adults convicted of murder and rape, is indescribable. Do they want him to learn how to become a real criminal?”

According to lawyer Rangel, “a 13 year-old lacks criminal capacity. You cannot attribute culpability for a criminal act or omission to a 13 year-old when the law states that culpability starts at the age of 16.  If a minor commits an illicit act, then the authorities are required to hand the child over to Juvenile Court and the INAC [National Institute for Children’s Support].  It really is very sad that they have placed a child of 13 in an adult prison.”

Maka Angola contacted a public prosecutor for comment and was told that such an act would be “an abuse”.   The magistrate said the legal authorities have an obligation to confirm the age of a suspect and then to abide by the law.  “If they find they have a 13 year-old, then the child cannot be detained. This would be an abuse.”

Contacted by this portal, the spokesperson for the Penitentiary Services, Moisés Cassoma promised an official reaction, after an investigation into the case, but has since not returned any calls.