Police Torture in Angola – Part II: The Persecution of Matata

People living in Cacuaco municipality, on the outskirts of the Angolan capital Luanda, have good reason to fear the police who operate there.  Residents complain that officers in both the National Police and the Criminal Investigation Service arrest people at random and then try to force them to confess to crimes.

Bernardo Correia Gaspar – known to family and friends as ‘Matata’, is 22 years of age.  He is currently languishing in Viana Prison, waiting to be charged for crimes of which he says he is innocent.  And it’s not the first time that he says the police have tried to frame him.

He was arrested in 2013 at his Aunt Emilia’s house in Viana municipality on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a police officer, known as ‘Frank’.  According to Bernardo Gaspar, Frank had been a gang leader with criminal associates before joining the National Police. “He was still into crime, even after he went into the police.  He was killed in another neighbourhood and was already dead when they took him to the Cauelele Police Station [39th Police Station].”

“Frank was a friend but he was more like my ‘old man’, like family.  We were close and he liked me a lot.  He was a judoka and he founded and led a group called ‘Mana Moça’.”  “There were all sorts in the group, juvenile delinquents, street-fighters, party organizers…”

Frank took the teenage Bernardo Gaspar under his wing, taught him judo and inducted him into Mana Moça.  While in the gang ‘Matata’ admits to committing one sole crime: “In 2013 I threatened a boy with a [broken] bottle and stole his mobile phone.  I was never arrested for that.”

When Frank was shot dead in an ambush, his fellow officers went after his associates. “The police officers alleged that Frank was still alive when he was taken there (to the police station) and that he named Matata, Matabicho, Leão and Wassaluka as the men who had ambushed him and shot him.”  “It never even crossed my mind that I could be accused of such a crime… I have taken part in street fights, in the mob, but I’ve never owned a gun.”

After his arrest Matata was badly beaten.  His elder sister Jandira Gaspar says: “Even my Aunt Emilia was beaten by the police when they raided her house to pick him up.”

He was remanded in custody until his trial, which began in April 2014 at the Luanda Provincial Court.

“In court, the young man who had taken Frank’s body to the police station (after the ambush) told the judge the truth: that he was with Frank when masked men opened fire on him as he left a party, and that he died before he reached the police station.”

The case collapsed, and after a full year in custody, Bernardo Gaspar, aka ‘Matata’, was found not guilty. He was released on November 17, 2014 and thereafter worked full-time as a barber.

But Frank’s colleagues hadn’t forgotten about him.

Police vendetta

On October 3, 2015, Bernardo was walking past the house of a neighbour called Mendes when he was shot without warning.
His mother Maria Manuela recalls the day: “My son was walking in the street here with another boy.  Mendes just took aim at him from close range with a modified AK and fired three shots.”  Two of the bullets hit Bernardo in the left leg, breaking his tibia.

He was rushed to the Caxito hospital, across the river, in Bengo province. As the medics began attempting to treat his leg, the police entered the hospital and arrested him.  “They held me for six days in a cell at the National Police Command of the Cacuaco Municipality (NPCCM), denying me any medical attention.  My wound turned septic. One of the investigators could see I was in a bad way and pressed for me to be transferred to São Paulo prison hospital.”

Bernardo’s family say the detectives arrested him as a pretext to extort money. “Chief Chagas and Detective [João] Saldanha, [head of the Criminal Investigation Service unit within the NPCCM] were the ones calling me,” says Maria Manuela. “They were constantly calling, first asking for 150,000 kwanzas – but as we had no means of paying that they brought it down to 80,000 kwanzas to let my son go.”

Bernardo Gaspar was held in the São Paulo prison hospital for six months, before being transferred to the Luanda central jail for a further month.  He was finally set free on April 20, 2016.  The case, number 3456/15 was signed off by Public Prosecutor Florinda Agostinho Nelomba.   He was left crippled by the injury and subsequent inadequate medical care and now needs crutches to walk.

No action was taken against the man who shot him.  In fact, the neighbour Mendes has since been outed as a collaborator with the Cauelele Police Station’s criminal investigation unit.

Bernardo’s mother, Maria Manuela is anguished.  “The injustice is so great, I don’t know what to do”.  She tried to present a complaint against Mendes for having fired the shot that injured her son’s leg.  “But the police didn’t want to know”. “Only when he (the neighbour) tried to kill someone else, did they come and seize his AK 47.  But he went straight out and boasted that he had paid 70,000 Kwanzas to get it back from the Cauelele Police Station. He was allowed to stay free and in revenge, he tried to run down Bernardo’s younger brother, Rogério, with his car.”

In early June this year, some officers from Cauelele Police Station encountered Bernardo in the street one afternoon.  “They tortured him, hitting him in the abdomen where he’d recently undergone an operation,” his mother says.  They let him go, but he was unable to stand and his mother had to take him to hospital.

Days later, he was picked up again.

It began at around 3pm on June 15, when Bernardo and his girlfriend were at his stepmother’s house. With him were his brother, 20 year old Pedro Rogério Gaspar, and a friend, Tômbwa Eduardo, 24.

Rogério and Tômbwa were watching a Jean Claude Van Damme movie when the doorbell rang.  Tômbwa opened the door, was asked if ‘Matata’ was at home and responded to say that yes, he was with his girlfriend in the bedroom.

The enquirer was a police officer.  He made no attempt to produce a search warrant or arrest warrant.  Instead, he and his colleagues marched in and proceeded to round up the four occupants of the house.  “Before I knew what was happening, they started to hit me with my own crutch,” says Bernardo.  “They then took my girlfriend and my brother (and his friend Tômbwa) into custody as well.”

Bernardo’s elder sister, Jandira Gaspar, was nearby and saw the incident unfold. The police officers turned up in two patrol vehicles.  Jandira says she was told the officers had been sent to the neighbourhood to pick up five young people who had been drinking in a backyard bar, run by a neighbour.  They raided the shebeen.  “Four of those lads escaped; the police killed the fifth boy with a single shot to the back,” says Jandira.  She says the dead boy’s name was Márcio.

The officers then went through the neighbour’s property, seizing a radio and a satellite TV decoder and drinking the beer that she had been selling.   Unfortunately for him, 17-year-old Ilídio Manuel Graça turned up to buy beer at that moment and was promptly arrested and placed inside one of the vehicles, where an officer started laying into him.

Bernardo recounts what happened next: “There were six police officers in all and they bent the four of us over one of the patrol cars and began hitting us at random, using my crutches and an iron bar that they took out of the vehicle.  They hit me so hard they bent one of the crutches.”

He then saw the police moving another detainee from one vehicle to the other.  This turned out to be Flávio Agostinho Carizo.   They put him in the same car as Bernardo’s girlfriend, Rogério and Tômbwa.

Jandira says she saw one of the officers hit Bernardo’s girlfriend repeatedly across the face before taking all the money she had on her, a sum of about 15,000 kwanzas.  The officer then asked his colleagues to let the girl go, and they did so.

The two vehicles then drove to the Ndala Mulemba police post, an outpost to the 39th Police Station.  Jandira and other family members, including Flávio Carizo’s wife Sara, followed the vehicles to find out what was going on.

“The post is a container unit with no surrounding barrier.  We saw a policeman hit Flávio with the butt of an AK across his head, causing an open wound.  His hands were handcuffed at the time,” Jandira said.

Confess or be tortured                                                                                                           The 39th Police Station, also known as the ‘Cauelele’.

Family friend Tômbwa Eduardo works for a supermarket chain but he studied Law and Economics.  Interviewed by Maka Angola, Tômbwa told us “the police used Matata’s crutch to hit him deliberately on the injured leg.”  “They used their batons, his crutches, iron bars – anything they had to hand; we had absolutely no idea why they were dishing out this beating.”

Later that evening, they were transferred to a cell inside ‘Cauelele’, the 39th Police Station.

Tômbwa says: “When we got to Cauelele, the investigating officers wanted us to sign papers incriminating ourselves of armed assault.  I studied law, so I tried to reason with them that I could not sign a statement of admission to a crime about which I had no knowledge. They weren’t interested.”

“My family turned up at the police station and the investigating officers made me choose – either sign the paper and be set free, or stay and be tortured. I signed and they let me go (in the early hours of June 16)”.

Rogério Gaspar was also set free. But his elder brother Bernardo, Flávio Agostinho Carizo and Ilídio Manuel Graça remained in custody and continued to be subjected to beatings. Bernardo names Investigating Officer Chagas and Police Officers Saidy and Peixe as the principal culprits.

From the first evening, the officers insisted that the young men should confess to some specific crimes, including an armed assault on a residence in Caxito, in Bengo province, as well as a homicide.

“They handcuffed us with our arms around the trunk of a tree and beat us with iron bars, sticks and electrical cables.  We had to answer yes to the accusations they hurled at us, or they would step up the beatings.”

‘We were stubborn.  We didn’t want to admit to crimes that we hadn’t committed and knew nothing about.”

Jandira Gaspar witnessed the interrogation. “I managed to gain access to the police station because I know some of the officers who work there. Ilídio was tied up with his arms around a mango tree and they were whipping him with electrical cables. Each time that he refused to admit to any of the crimes they were accusing him of, the police would step up the beating.  I saw it.  I heard it.”

Death by interrogation

Around 6am on Sunday June 17, the officers removed their victims from their cell to begin another interrogation session.  Jandira Gaspar was still there and could barely believe what she saw.  They brought out Flávio Carizo.

“The police officers tied a cord around Flávio’s testicles and pulled on it while pricking his legs with a knife.”

Her brother endured much the same treatment. He says: “The police were using metal clubs, wooden boards and electrical cables to hit us all over our bodies.  Flávio was badly swollen from this beating.”

Flávio Carizo’s father, Agostinho Carizo, heard from his daughter-in-law what had taken place. “That day, my son’s wife saw an officer carry him on his back to a vehicle.  She tried to approach him but other police officers would not allow her to see him. They called for a cloth to cover him, saying he had a fever.  My grandson, who is only three years old, saw his father and started sobbing.”   The police took him to the Cacuaco Municipal Hospital where he was x-rayed, given an injection and he was then taken back to the cell at Cauelele.

The following day, June 18, Flávio’s sister, Deolinda Coelho, went to the 39th police station to demand that the police take the prisoner to hospital, as his condition was causing alarm.  “The police said that he was a prisoner of the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) and that with none of their officers present, nothing could be done.”

“As he was a SIC prisoner, I went to the SIC office at the National Police Command of the Cacuaco Municipality [NPCCM] and they gave me the run-around until my brother died.  And even then they lied to me, saying he was in intensive care.”

Flávio Carizo died in custody around 7am on June 19.  Officers from Cauelele took him to Cacuaco municipal hospital but he was dead on arrival.  The officers then took the body to the morgue at Luanda’s Josina Machel hospital, where they registered him as an unknown subject who had died suddenly.  (See Part One of Maka Angola’s special report into police torture).

Neutralising the witnesses

Bernardo Gaspar says “God only knows how I lived through this.”  “My friend, [Flávio] Carizo, died in my arms in the cell they threw us in, after they had tortured both of us.”   Fellow prisoners screamed for the guards to come to no avail. For the next five hours Bernardo cradled the corpse.

The same day he was transferred to NPCCM municipality where he was held for six days before being questioned by the investigating magistrate.

Jandira Gaspar has been keeping a close eye on her brother’s situation. She discovered that the Cauelele police station had opened a case, accusing the five young men detained on June 15 of killing a police officer, of armed assault on cars and residences in Bengo province.

She says: “The public attorney found it hard to believe the charges, not least because ‘Matata’ (Bernardo) could only walk with the aid of crutches. He said he thought the police had just picked them up at random.” Coincidentally Bernardo was transferred to the São Paulo prison hospital just before he was due to make a statement, preventing him from being questioned by the public prosecutor.”

Transfer to the prison hospital was no picnic either. On arrival at São Paulo, Bernardo says, “I was protesting against the transfer because I was due to be heard by the public prosecutor and I wanted to make a statement. The officer overseeing my transfer from Cacuaco, Chief Messias, hit me with the butt of his pistol, punched me and kicked me.”

The young man points out recent scars all over his body. “I have lesions on my ribs. The pain makes it impossible to sleep. They beat me so much.  So much. Only God let me live.”

Maka Angola has kept abreast of Maria Manuela’s attempts to find out information from the NPCCM, at the very least the case number for her son’s arrest and continued detention, as well as the reason for his detention.  So far without success. This is the same Command that has declined to respond to Agostinho Carizo, the father of the deceased Flávio.

A source at the NPCCM, speaking on condition his name be withheld, has told Maka Angola that the young man “is being held privately by Cauelele. Their objective is to kill him and then brand him as a highly dangerous bandit.”

Legal experts say that with mounting evidence of criminal behaviour by the officers at the 39th police station, the authorities have no excuse for inaction.  Maka Angola’s legal adviser Rui Verde says:  “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.”