The trial of pro-democracy activists arrested in June 2015finally opened on November 16, 2015 before the Luanda Provincial Tribunal. Theyare charged with “preparatory acts to rebellion” and “plotting against thePresident and other institutions”, both of which constitute crimes against thesecurity of the State.
Since then, Messrs. HenriqueLuaty Beirão (a.k.a. Brigadeiro Mata-Frakuxz), Manuel Nito Alves, Nuno Alvaro Dala, Nelson DibangoMendes Dos Santos, Alfonso Jojo Matias (a.k.a. Mbanza Hamza), Sedrick de Carvalho, Fernando António Tómas(a.k.a. Nicola Radical), HitlerChiconda (a.k.a. Samussuku), Italiano Arante Kivuvu, Benedito Dali (a.k.a. DitoDali), Albano Bingobingo(a.k.a. Albano Liberdade), José GomesHata (a.k.a. Cheik Hata), Inocénio De Brito (a.k.a. Drux), Domingos da Cruz, journalist, as wellas Osvaldo Caholo, a reserve military officer acquainted to one of the 16, had been inpreventive detention, until they were placed under house arrest on December 18,2015, after nearly six months of detention. Two other human rights defenders, Rosa Kusso Conde and Laurinda Manuel Gouveia, are facingsimilar charges, but were not detained. They face up to 12 years of imprisonment.
The 17 activists are known pro-democracy activists, who havebeen organizing peaceful protests against the 35-year-regime of AngolanPresident Eduardo Dos Santos since 2011. These protests were often repressed bythe authorities. From May to June 2015, they held a handful of meetings, onSaturdays, at the bookstore “Livraria Kiazele”, in Luanda, to discuss peacefulmeans of protest. Inspired by the work of American academic Gene Sharp, thejournalist, university lecturer and fellow detainee Domingos da Cruz, adaptedSharp’s writings to the Angolan reality in a manuscript which he entitled“Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoid a New Dictatorship – a PoliticalPhilosophy for the Liberation of Angola”. The manuscript served as a startingpoint for the youths’ debates on peaceful means of protest. It is being used asthe primary evidence of the youths’ intentions to seize power, which the statealleges would have involved violent means.
Numerous national and internationalobservers had announced their intention to attend the trial hearings, includingthe Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT).Unfortunately, since the beginning of the proceedings, access to the courtroomhas been restricted, in violation with the right to a public hearing.Restrictions particularly targeted journalists, representatives from embassies,as well as supporters of the “Angola 15”. To date, no diplomat has been allowedinto the courtroom. Some journalists were allowed to enter the room on theeight day of the hearing, on the condition that theydo not film, record nor take pictures of the session. The room where theproceedings take place is relatively small given the number of accused.
The accused are brought into the courtroom only when andonce they have been heard by the court.
The information provided below has been gathered fromseveral independent sources. Unfortunately, it arises from the informationprovided below that the proceedings are marred with numerous violations of theright to a fair trial.
Monday, January 25,2016
OnJanuary 25, 2016, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal postponed to February 8, 2016the hearing in the trial against the 17 above-mentioned persons. The Court isstill due to hear more than 50 declarants.
Thursday, December 3,2015 - Monday, December 13, 2015
During the hearings, four additional defendants were calledin to provide testimony, namely, Arante Kivuvu, José Gomes Hata, Sedrick deCarvalho, Fernando António Tómas and Osvaldo Caholo.
Sedrick de Carvalho, who worked with Domingos da Cruz at the magazine Folha 8,designed the layout of “Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoid a NewDictatorship – a Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola” and tookpart in the meetings as both colleagues sought to edit and improve themanuscript with the critical contributions emerging from the debates. That ishis crime, according to the state authorities.
During the hearings, rough footages of the book clubmeetings and debates were displayed. The footages were screening only parts ofthe meetings taken out of context in order to sustain the accusations pendingagainst the activists.
All the defendants who appeared during these sessionscategorically refused to respond to the questions related to the content of thevideos, upholding that the footages were illegally obtained and were not theoriginal ones.
The defense filed another complaint to the ConstitutionalCourt insisting on that matter, highlighting the fact that according to theAngolan legislation, material can not be used as evidence if it has alreadybeen shared with other people and institutions, as it has been the case withthe videos, shared to the media.
Moreover, the defendants issued a public letter, directed toPresident dos Santos, indicating their intention to initiate a collectivehunger strike to protest against delays in the trial.
On December 10, 2015, four of the defendants started ahunger strike, including Sedrick de Carvalho, Luaty Beirão, Domingos da Cruzand José Gomes Hata. On December 14, 2015, they were eight defendants on hungerstrike. This is the second time the human rights defenders start a hungerstrike to raise awareness about their case. In the previous occasion, inOctober 2015, they were protesting against the excessive length of theirpre-trial detention, which exceeded the 90-day limit prescribed by law. Aftersuch a term, a court is required to rule on the extension of the detention,which did not happen within the prescribed time-limit.
Moreover, in an open letter addressed to his family andfriends from the São Paulo Prison, Sedrick de Carvalho threatened to commitsuicide in protest against his 176 days of unlawful detention. He added that,during his six months in detention, he spent more than 2,000 hours straight insolitary confinement without being able to see daylight. According to him, thisis a deliberate strategy by the Angolan authorities to drive the prisonersinsane with psychological torture, humiliation and other abuses.
Wednesday, December 2,2015
Luaty Beirão remained silent as the prosecution kept probinghim with questions. The prosecution presented as evidence items such as a chalkboard that was used in the lectures the group held to discuss strategies fromthe book “Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoiding a New Dictatorship –Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola” of Domingos da Cruz who isalso being tried.The prosecution presented two videos. The defense asked fortranscripts of them. The videos have images of the two meetings the youngactivists had before the 15 were arrested between June 20 and 24. HenriqueLuaty Beirão stated that he was not committing a crime by claiming that Angolawas a pseudo-democracy and that President José Eduardo dos Santos a dictator.
Tuesday, December 1,2015
Henrique Luaty Beirão was called in to provide testimony.Luaty Beirão denied before the court that the meetings the group used to have,from May until the detentions in June, were meant to promote violent acts tooverthrow the president. He said the gatherings were solely academicdiscussions around a book, and that there were no personal political agendas.Beirão criticized what he called Angolan "pseudodemocracy" andrepeated calls he has been making since 2011 for the resignation of PresidentJosé Eduardo dos Santos whom he called a dictator - just as in the secretrecordings that the prosecution has presented in the trial.
Monday, November 30,2015
Inocéncio De Brito (a.k.a. Drux) was called in to speak. Thejudge screened again the same video presented at the previous hearings ofDomingos da Cruz (on November 20) and Nuno Alvaro Dala (on November 24).
Friday, November 27,2015
Alfonso Matias was called in to speak again. The defenseasked questions regarding the circumstances of the arrest and the currentdetention of the accused. Domingo da Cruz and Manuel Nito Alves were supposedto appear before the Court since Thursday. They were not present because theyare sick. They had to see a doctor. The defendants reported acts ofill-treatment by prison guards in the prison cells.
Thursday, November 26,2015
The video that was secretly filmed during one meetingattended by the activist group was screened again. The video footage displayedDomingo da Cruz and Luaty Beirão discussing about the struggle for freedom andnational interests.
Alfonso Matias (a.k.a Mbanza Hamza) was called in to speak.He was asked whether he thought Angola was a dictatorship. He answered yes anddenounced President José Eduardo dos Santos’ rule for 36 years. At some pointof the hearing, the mother of Alfonso Matias fainted in the courtroom. She wasimmediately taken to the hospital.
Wednesday, November25, 2015
Nuno Alvaro Dala was called in to speak again. The courttried to play the defendants off against each other, mentioning an allegedletter written by him, in which he accused Domingos da Cruz of treason. Hedenied having written any such letter.
Following the pressure exercised by the Journalist Union,the Judge allowed some media representatives into the court room, on thecondition that they do not film, record nor take pictures of the session.
The defense team submitted an appeal to the ConstitutionalCourt for Habeas Corpus. They are contesting the decision of the Supreme Courtwhich denied HC a while back.
Tuesday, November 24,2015
Nuno Alvaro Dala was called in to provide testimony.However, it was reported that his lawyers were not allowed to see him or speakto him prior to the court session. The lawyers complain to the judge, whodismissed the complaints. The judge also refused to register this matter in theminutes of the hearing. In protest, a defense lawyer left the room. An assignedlawyer was then appointed to defend Mr. Dala, who refused to speak in theabsence of his own lawyer.
Another part of the video was screened, revealing adiscussion between Messrs. da Cruz and Beirão about the necessity to mobiliseinternational support and solidarity with their group, and condemning theinvolvement of any military groups. The judge stroke out the complaints filedthe day before by the defense, and indicated that the decision could beappealed to a higher court. The defense invoked Articles 6 and 34 of theConstitution, to no avail. Speaking to the media, the defense lawyers announcedtheir intention to file formal complaints against the judge and the BarAssociation with regards to the violations of basic rules and rights of thelawyers during the trial proceedings.
Monday, November 23,2015
The session resumed with the questioning of Domingos daCruz, for almost five hours. The Public Prosecutor interrogated him again abouthis book, asked questions on the relationship between “a revolution” and “themilitary”, as well as on notions of funding and violence. The defendantsystematically responded “nothing to declare” to questions asked.
Friday, November 20,2015
The judge ordered to resume the reading of the book. Lateron, only three defendants were questioned and allowed to speak, namely ManuelNito Alves, Hitler Chiconda and Domingos da Cruz. In the meantime, activistswho had come to show support to the “Angola 15” were severely reprimanded bythe police. Twelve individuals were arrested and held at the Benfica Policestation for six hours until the trial session was over. The prosecutionrequested an authorisation to screen a video footage which had been filed as anevidence against the accused. The defense lawyers objected, on the ground thatthis footage had been illegally obtained. Nonetheless, the request was approvedby the judge. The defense filed a complaint against the judge´s decision, andalso requested the suppression of all evidence unlawfully collected from thedefendant´s computers (and other electronic devices) which were planned to bepresented in court. The request was not taken in consideration. The videofootage pictured Domingo da Cruz speaking during a group discussion, reading andexplaining some passages of his book to Henrique Luaty Beirão and anotherunidentified individual. Mr. da Cruz was further interrogated about thecircumstances of his detention and the nature of the discussion meetings.
While the trial hearings were scheduled to last untilNovember 20, they resumed the following after.
Thursday, November 19,2015
Mr. Domingos da Cruz, a journalist and academic, authorof the unpublished book “Tools to destroy a dictator and avoid a newdictatorship - Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola”, was in turninterrogated by the judge and the public attorney about his book. WhenMr. da Cruz was asked who was the dictator mentioned in the title and whatwere the tools to “destroy” him, he responded “read the book!”. The judge askedfor a copy of the book to be brought to him and ordered the reading of theentire book in the court room. One of the defense lawyers left the roomoutraged. By the time they got to page 36, the session was adjourned to thenext day. A court clerk read out the 187-page manuscript in court - a taskwhich took two full days.
At the end of the session, the judge ordered to only bringto the court the defendants who were called to testify. The others would remainin prison. The defense lawyers challenged the decision. Representatives fromthe EU, US and Norway were present outside of the courtroom every day, butagain denied access.
Wednesday, November18, 2015
The railing on the side of the court was sealed with redcolored zinc sheets to restrict access to the courthouse. No cellphones andwater bottles are allowed inside the court room. All t-shirts showing slogansof support with the accused were confiscated by the judge. Five of the “Angola15”, namely Nuno Alvaro Dala, Alfonso Jojo Matias, Henrique Luaty Beirão,Hitler Chiconda, and Benedito Dali were announced that they were facingadditional charges of “destruction of state property” for writing slogans ontheir prison uniforms. Allegations of physical violence against the defendantAlbano Bingobingo were presented to the Court as well as against Alfonso JojoMatias and Hitler Chiconda, both assaulted by the police the day before. HitlerChiconda was in turn questioned. The defense lawyer asked him if he had a gunor knew how to operate one. The prosecution objected. Finally, the Courtcharged him with an additional accusation of “defamation against AngolanPresident Dos Santos” for having written “Dos Santos´ prisoner!” on his prisonuniform. Representatives from the EU, US and Norway were present outside of thecourtroom every day, but again denied access.
Tuesday, November 17,2015
Observers, including journalists, were again barred from thecourtroom and told to return only for the reading of the verdict. Theatmosphere was tense. The Military Intelligence and Security Service of theAngolan Armed Forces deployed 80 officers to the trial. Half of them posed asunknown relatives of the defendants or law students and filled the courtroom.As a result, diplomats, observers and the public were kept outside of thecourtroom. The other half of the armed forces was deployed in the vicinity ofthe courthouse. Supporters of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberationof Angola (MPLA) party continued to rally outside the court, where tents werestrategically provided for them. They are wearing and chanting the slogan“Justice without pressure”.
Two of the “Angola 15”, namely Alfonso Jojo Matias andHitler Chiconda, were assaulted by the police for wearing slogans on theirprison uniforms. The interrogation of Manuel Nito Alves resumed.Representatives from the EU, US and Norway were present outside of thecourtroom every day, but again denied access.
Monday, November 16,2015
The trial opens before the Luanda Provincial Tribunal. Thedefense is not able to see the complete 1,000 long file case ahead of thehearing, including part of the evidence against the Angola 15, which is aprocedural violation under Angola laws and international human rights law.Furthermore, although it was announced that the trial would be open to thepublic, only two relatives per detainee were allowed inside the court room.Representatives from several embassies, including the United States, theEuropean Union, Norway and Portugal were barred from observing the courtproceedings. Mr. Manuel Nito Alves, the youngest defendant, wasinterrogated during about seven hours. The main questions he was asked wererelated to a trip to Brazil, where he attended the Conectas Annual Human RightsColloquium. Questions related notably to the funding of his trip, and contactsmade there. A video of an interview he gave to a Brazilian journalist waspresented to the Court as evidence against him, pointing out to somecontradictions in his declarations to the court with regards to the ones he madeat the pre-trial investigation stage. Mr. Alves responded that during thepre-trial investigation, he was being pressured by the instructors.