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Africa

Angola: 'A sad day for freedom of expression'

A court in Luanda on Monday found 17 pro-democracy activists guilty of attempting to topple President José Eduardo dos Santos. Rights activists however said the trial was politically motivated.

Journalist and activist Domingos da Cruz was handed an eight-year-six-month jail term for allegedly planning a coup and for criminal association.

A well-known Portuguese-Angolan rapper and poet, Luaty Beirao, was sentenced to five-years-three-months for "rebellion against the president of the republic, criminal association and falsifying documents."

Ana Monteiro from Amnesty International in Portugal said "there should never have been a trial, much less a sentencing." Monteiro added that "the process was highly irregular. This is a very sad day for freedom of expression and association."

“This court just executed the orders of President dos Santos and the ruling MPLA," Activist Pedrowski Teca said. "This is a shame for our judicial system. As an activist and companion of one of the accused women, I’ll tell you that this is one of the worst mistakes that the regime and the party are commiting."

13 of the 17 activists were detained on June 20, 2015, while discussing Gene Sharp's 1993 book "From Dictatorship to Democracy" about non-violent resistance against repressive regimes. Two other youth activists were arrested later, while two women were indicted and later released.

While in detention, they were subjected to abuse, including violence. During their nine months in custody one of them tried to commit suicide.

The 17 Angolan activists, 15 of which are in custody, accused of preparatory acts of rebellion, were this morning present on trial in the Court of Benfica in Luanda, Angola, 16 November 2015. The activists are all accused, among other crimes,of the crime of co-authoring of material preparatory acts of rebellion, and of an attempt on the President of Angola, as part of a weekly training course that was occurring since May. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Juliao

All 17 activists have been on trial for several months

Court ignores the law

What was supposed to be a quick trial had dragged on for months. Angolan journalist Rafael Marques, who has won several international prizes for his human rights activism, told DW that the trial was clearly politically motivated.

"It seems that the Angolan regime urgently needs to find an enemy to distract citizens from society's main problems," Marques said, referring to Angola's rapidly deteriorating oil-dependent economy that was hit hard by a steep decline in commodity prices on the world market.

Eight of the activists had been on a hunger strike protesting their long detention. Luaty Beirao, who holds both Portuguese and Angolan citizenship, had refused food for a total of 36 days, one day for every year that President dos Santos has been in power.

This drew the attention of the world and probably helped to secure their release from prison into an house arrest in mid-December. Rights group Amnesty International collected over 38,000 signatures in protest against the detention. There were also demonstrations on the streets of some European capitals.

Activists in the court of Angola. They are accused of rebellion against Angola’s government. DW/P.B.Ndomba

Two of the 17 activists, Luaty Beirao (front) and Arante Kivuvu (back), were sentenced for allegedly trying to topple President dos Santos

Repression is growing

Teresa Pina of the Portugal chapter of Amnesty International told DW that the case against the 17 is just another instance of "a long history of punishing dissent in Angola."

Nito Alves, one of the other activists, was jailed for six months for calling the court proceedings a farce. Alves had also been detained in 2013 for two months, when he was still a minor, for wearing a t-shirt calling for the president's removal.

No international observers were allowed to attend the trial. The prosecution was also unable to produce all 70 witnesses it had announced would conclusively prove that the young teenagers were plotting a rebellion.

Lawyers for the defendants announced they would file an appeal at the country's highest court.

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