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, […]

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Methodist Corruption: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

The Methodist University of Angola (MUA) is in disarray amid allegations of corruption at the highest levels leading to calls from the United Methodist Church for a thorough audit and a full investigation. There are also demands that certain members of the Board of Directors to be replaced and that the Church take responsibility for bank debts of US $21 million. The private sector university, designed to serve an estimated 9,000 students, is at the centre of a dispute between the Church and its main commercial partner, the Portuguese company LisTorres, which controls 57% of MUA stock through two Angolan subsidiaries, Turpolis and Imolis. According to the published accounts prepared by the MUA’s Board of Directors, the institution has turned a profit of US $16 million over its eight-year existence, with a total income of  US $112 million and costs of US $95.3 million. Now, however, LisTorres is said to be demanding US$25 million to give up its interest […]

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Six Months in Prison for Calling the Trial a Farce

The Angolan judge presiding over the ‘Luanda Book Club’ trial of 17 Angolan activists accused of preparing a rebellion, has pronounced one of the activists guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 Kwanzas. Defendant Manuel Chivonde Baptista Nito Alves, 19,  had “interjected disrespectfully”, said Judge Januário Domingos, accusing him of “offending and disrespecting the court.” Nito Alves was allegedly heard to make a comment when his own father, Fernando Baptista, was being asked whether he had been heard in the preparatory phase of the trial,  to which he said “no”. Counsel for the public prosecutor’s office referred Fernando Baptista to records of the proceedings.  That was when Nito Alves “interjected disrespectfully” said the judge,  to “belittle and slander the court.” The defence lawyer asked for moderation and a corrective measure, arguing in mitigation that the accused had been under intense pressure, including six months […]

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No-Shows Force Adjournments at the Show Trial of the Luanda Book Club 

Late last year, after a torrid few weeks under the gaze of the world’s media, the trial of dissidents charged with rebellion against Angola’s MPLA government was abruptly adjourned in time for Christmas.  This was seen as less a gesture of seasonal goodwill, more an attempt to shake off some increasingly uncomfortable scrutiny by the outside world. The initial 15 defendants, known as the “Luanda Book Club”, are a group of youthful dissidents and activists who were arrested for having gathered to read and discuss Gene Sharp’s ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation”.  The book is described as a blueprint for nonviolent resistance to repressive regimes.  For the heinous act of reading about resistance, they were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the state.  Two other human rights activists were later added to the charge sheet, though not held in detention. After months in preventative custody, Rapper Luaty Beirão and his […]

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Land-Grabbing as a Path to Riches and Status in Angola

Angolan investigative journalist and human rights defender Rafael Marques de Morais has submitted a complaint to the Office of the Attorney General about the behaviour of notorious Kwanza-Sul Governor, General Eusébio de Brito Teixeira, for illegal land-grabbing. The complaint refers to yet more illegal appropriation of rural land, after having already grabbed more than 300 square kilometers to raise cattle and farming.  The Governor is suspected of three criminal offences:  the unlawful transfer of land from the State to an individual; unlawfully re-designating land for real estate development as rural land;  and  assigning  reduced value to these lands below their real commercial value (thus defrauding the State). Documentary evidence submitted with the complaint shows that on May 22nd, 2014, in his role as Governor of Kwanza Sul province,  the General made it known he had granted land surface rights to Ebrite Filhos Ltd., a company he formed with his children […]

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Luanda Central Jail’s Torture Chamber: The Re-Education Room

“They took me to the Police Station in the Nova Vida (New Life) Project where some policemen punched and kicked me,” says 28 year-old Benjamin Filipe, as he recalls the events of August 20th, 2012. The young man was working as a mechanic in a private workshop and lived in Fubu District at the back end of the Nova Vida Project, south of the Angolan capital, Luanda.  That day “the police went to my home, saying I possessed a weapon and had committed a crime”, he explains. “They kicked me in the head so much that my ears bled”, he says.  “And then after what they called this “softening up”, one of the policemen took some pliers and pulled out three fingernails: from the index finger, middle finger and little finger of my right hand”. Such ill-treatment merits the definition of torture.  And it was only after this that the […]

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The War on Social Media and the Trial of Activists

Following the president’s outline of his war on social media, Judge Januário Domingos is making history by being the first to hear a case of a political joke on Facebook that has displeased the regime. Yesterday, the judge of the Luanda Provincial Court questioned a Catholic priest, Father Jacinto Pio Wakussanga, for being part of an imaginary government, generated in a playful Facebook discussion, as the head of the National Electoral Commission. In court, the priest told the judge that he had heard through social media about this imaginary government and thought it was just a joke. Last May, a lawyer Albano Pedro set up an open online forum on his Facebook page to entice discussants to come up with names for what would be an ideal government of national salvation. The leader of the millennial religious sect “The Light of the Day”, José Julino Kalupeteka, who has been in […]

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New Law Enables Indefinite Detention of Dissenters

Angola’s government, which has faced mounting international criticism over the lengthy detention of dissidents, has rushed through a new law entitled the “Law on Precautionary Measures in Criminal Proceedings”. This sudden development legitimized the release under house arrest, in mid-December, of the 15 activists detained last June during a book club reading, and who are currently standing trial for rebellion but had been held in preventative custody for months. That seemed a positive development, but does the new law really represent an advance in Angolan criminal legislation?  Does it introduce more humane treatment of prisoners in line with the rights set out in the Angolan Constitution? Observers note some positives in that the law is undoubtedly an improvement on its predecessor, the rigid 1929 Portuguese Penal Code.  Efforts in 1992 to update the 1929 penal code took place in a climate of war and resulted in a patchwork quilt that […]

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Don’t Look, Don’t Point! The Savagery of an Encounter with the Police

Malungo Sapalalo says with immense pride, his voice cracking, that he is from Huila, a province in Southern Angola that has long been a magnet for tourists and campers, an area many describe as heavenly within national standards. The search for work drew him to the country’s capital, Luanda, where he has encountered hell: arbitrary detention and torture at the hands of police officers.  It could have been worse.  He witnessed officers beating a fellow detainee to death. This is Malungo Sapalalo’s story. On November 5 last year, around midday, Sapalalo was busy at his second job as a loader near the ” Onze de Novembro” football stadium (named for Angolan Independence Day, November 11).  He was loading construction blocks for delivery to building sites. While resting between loads, he and four other workers got into a conversation about vehicles, comparing the relative speeds of a Toyota Hilux versus a […]

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United Nations Calls for the Release of Marcos Mavungo

The American Bar Association, ACAT France, Front Line Defenders, the Southern African Litigation Centre and the global law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP –– welcomed the opinion by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) condemning as arbitrary and in violation of international law the arrest and conviction of Angolan human rights activist José Marcos Mavungo. The UNWGAD has called on the government of Angola to immediately release Mavungo and grant him compensation. “Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental to a democracy and no one should be detained for legitimately exercising these rights,” said ABA President Paulette Brown. “The ABA calls upon the government of Angola to respect the UNWGAD’s decision and immediately release José Marcos Mavungo.” Mavungo was arrested and detained in March 2015 on charges of rebellion for organizing a demonstration on human rights violations and bad governance in the Cabinda region of Angola.  […]

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