Police Torture in Angola – Part I: The Death of Flávio Carizo

Flávio Agostinho Carizo was laid to rest on June 25. It was his birthday. He would have been 26 years old. Those who witnessed his final hours are prepared to testify that he was killed by police officers who were trying to torture a confession out of him.

Flávio Carizo was one of a group of five young men subjected to repeated beatings and ill-treatment between June 15 and June 19 this year at a police station commonly known as the ‘Cauelele Police Station’: Police Station 39 in Kikolo neighbourhood, Cacuaco municipality, on the outskirts of the Angolan capital, Luanda.

Eye-witnesses to the killing say he was tortured to death by police officers over that period: struck in the head with an AK 47 rifle butt, beaten with iron and wooden bars, stabbed in the legs and having a ligature tightened around his testicles. Their accounts are confirmed by the death certificate issued by the Cacuaco Municipal Hospital on June 21, which is in Maka Angola’s possession. The certificate confirms the result of an autopsy into how the young man died, giving the cause of death as “blunt-force trauma to the head and testicles.”

Maka Angola was able to interview Flávio Carizo’s family members along with fellow detainees who saw what happened.  One of the witnesses is Bernardo Gaspar Correia, who is currently being held in Viana prison waiting to be charged.  He says he is innocent of the charges against him and points to visible recent scars from wounds he sustained during what he describes as the daily torture sessions at ‘Cauelele Police Station’, designed to force him and other detainees to confess to crimes of which they had no knowledge.

“I know who was responsible for torturing Carizo to death,” he says. “SIC [Criminal Investigation Service] chief Chagas, and officers Peixe and Saidy from the Cauelele Police Station. I also know the jailer who helped them to torture us.”

Angola’s Justice and Human Rights Minister, Rui Mangueira, routinely tells his international counterparts that “there are no human rights violations in Angola”.  Yet Maka Angola regularly receives allegations of police brutality which fit a pattern of behaviour that amounts to state-sponsored torture.  The killing of Carizo is the latest in a long series of similar crimes by police officers attached to stations in and around the capital, Luanda, which in general go unpunished.  This time there is no excuse for inaction, with numerous witnesses able to testify to the facts and to identify the perpetrators.

Bernardo’s elder sister, Jandira Gaspar was at the station along with Flávio’s wife, Sara Mendonça, trying to find out why their relatives were being held. They saw police officers beating detainees in full view of the public. Sara was also present when her husband was initially taken from the station to hospital. They accuse the police of lying to them about his condition and where he was being taken.

According to the witnesses, Flávio died early on June 19. “At 6am, the investigating officers took the prisoners from their cell for another interrogation session. They put us back in the cell afterwards and that was when Carizo died in my arms,” says Bernardo Correia. “All the prisoners in that cell screamed for the police to come and remove the dead man, but there was no response.  Only around midday did someone come to take him out of the cell. He had been dead since 7am.”

When rumours of his son’s death reached Agostinho Carizo, he found it hard to believe.  He went directly to the office of the Precinct Commander to find out what had happened and was told his son was alive and in “intensive care” at the Cacuaco Municipal Hospital.

“But we knew the truth.  So we went directly to the (Cacuaco) hospital morgue where they told us that the boy was already dead on arrival and his body was transferred straight to the Morgue at the Josina Machel Hospital in Luanda.”  At the Josina Machel morgue, says the grieving father, “we found his body on the pile of unknown and unclaimed corpses.”  “The police who took him there signed the register to say that his identity was unknown and he had died suddenly.”

Agostinho Carizo has written several times to the National Police to call for an inquiry.  He wants justice. “They just ignore me. To this day, the police have not even let us know why they took my son into custody. I have no idea why they arrested him, let alone why they killed him.”

He finds the tragedy incomprehensible: “When I first heard that my son was in police hands, I wasn’t worried.  I thought the authorities would investigate and that justice would be done.  But it turns out that law and order don’t exist in this country. The police took my son and killed him.  In a country that says it doesn’t have a death penalty.”

According to legal expert, Rui Verde, “the men in charge of these rogue police officers share the responsibility for any crimes committed by the men under their command, whether they actively encourage this kind of behaviour, order it directly or simply turn a blind eye to what’s happening.”

“This is not the first case we have dealt with,” says Rui Verde. “Recently there has been a surge in reports of ill treatment and torture at police stations, which suggests this behaviour happens regularly.   Really this falls to the Interior Minister (Ângelo de Barros de Veiga Tavares) the Commander of the National Police (Ambrósio de Lemos ) and the Director of the Criminal Investigation Service (Eugénio Pedro Alexandre) to put right.”