All the President’s Dogs

A protest in the Angolan capital, Luanda on Saturday August 20, was broken up by security forces who set dogs onto the 30 or so demonstrators calling for the resignation of President José Eduardo dos Santos.

António Francisco Diogo, 25, had a chunk ripped out of the back of his thigh by a bulldog unleashed by the military.

President Dos Santos had just been reelected as leader of the ruling MPLA (Peoples’ Movement for the Liberation of Angola) with 99.6% of his party’s vote. His re-election means he will be the sole MPLA candidate for next year’s presidential election. The MPLA has ruled Angola for 40 years, since wresting independence from its colonial master Portugal in 1975.

Widely derided as a tyrant, President Dos Santos, who has ruled the country for 37 of those years, is unable to tolerate any call for him to step down, however small or insignificant.

Apparently the powers-that-be thought the large police presence in Independence Square, complete with police dogs (the Canine Brigade), was not enough. They called in the military, whose dogs are deemed more ferocious.

“We all got badly beaten by the police with several activists reporting swollen arms and legs. A bespectacled passer-by could not keep silent as he saw the police beating us while we offered no resistance. He told the police it was inhumane what they were doing. They slapped him several times and hauled him off in a police vehicle”, said António Diogo.

Valdemar Aguinaldo, 26, claims that his injuries – a swollen right arm and a bulldog bite on his left leg – were bearable: “Aristocrata had it worse.”

The man nicknamed ‘Aristocrata’, Domingos Cipriano, aged 30, admits he paid a high price for exercising his constitutional right to protest. “The police surrounded me, one unleashed the dog, which first took my shoes off, the second time it bit me, on the right leg. Then, I was repeatedly beaten with batons by seven police officers. I also got several kicks and punches thrown at me”, he said.

The activist said that one police officer told him that the protesting youths were upsetting the president. He said he had lost relatives in the civil war and did not want to lose another one. “I replied that fear of war should not justify oppression on peace time. I told him that I’d lost my parents in the war. He got furious and pulled out his pistol. His commander held his hand, took his baton away, but left him with the pistol.”
A short while later, the same police officer returned. “He pulled out a (tear gas) canister and sprayed it over my eyes. It all went dark for me, my eyes were so painful. My mouth too.”

After the beatings, rather than providing medical assistance to the wounded, the police rounded up some eight youths, including two people described as “innocent passers-by” and drove them to the outskirts of the city, where they were left to find their way back to the city.

The right to protest is enshrined in the Angolan Constitution. However, the government has consistently used extreme violence to stop any group of citizens who dare to claim their right to show discord with the regime and, in particular, with the President.