Angolan police stop demo over disapperances

By Richard Lee | May 31st, 2013
Alves Kamulingue and Isaias Cassule (VOA courtesy of the two men's families)
Alves Kamulingue and Isaias Cassule (VOA courtesy of the two men's families)
Alves Kamulingue and Isaias Cassule (VOA courtesy of the two men's families)

The Angolan authorities remain completely silent about the enforced disappearance of two activists a year ago. And instead of launching a credible investigation, they continue to launch their repressive security forces against peaceful protestors – including a group who staged a demonstration on May 27th to denounce the lack of information about Isaias Cassule and Antonio Kamulingue.

According to Human Rights Watch, the police used excessive force against protesters at Luanda’s Independence Square. The activists were holding a youth vigil for the first anniversary of the disappearances of Cassule and Kamulingue.

“The Angolan authorities seem more interested in quashing peaceful protests than in investigating what happened to the two ‘disappeared’ men,” said Leslie Lefkow, Deputy Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. “This kind of intimidation just raises more questions about the government’s determination to suppress questions about Cassule’s and Kamulingue’s fate.”

Police began by barring Independence Square to prevent the gathering, and then beat around 30 protesters who were sitting on the square wearing black. Hundreds of passers-by, many of them students on their way home from school, witnessed the beatings.

The police arrested a dozen protesters and released them the same day without charge, except Emilio Catumbela, who was charged with attempted murder and is awaiting trial. Several protesters were mistreated in custody, and one suffered serious injuries to his ribs that required hospital treatment.

The authorities gave Catumbela’s lawyers false information on his whereabouts, effectively depriving him of access to counsel. Salvador Freire of the legal aid group Mãos Livres (Free Hands) told Human Rights Watch, “Neither the criminal investigation police nor the attorney-general told us the truth. And during the time I was prevented from contacting him they aggravated the charges against my client, and still don’t let me speak to him.”

The state news agency Angop reported on May 27 that the police dissolved an illegal and violent protest and were forced to take into custody protesters who threw stones at them. Human Rights Watch spoke with protesters who said that the vigil had been announced in advance to the authorities, in compliance with legal requirements. Witnesses said it was peaceful.

Cassule and Kamulingue were abducted by unidentified assailants on May 27 and 29, 2012, respectively, after they organized a protest on May 27 in Luanda by former presidential guards and war veterans over complaints of unpaid salaries and pensions. Youth activists had earlier organized demonstrations in December 2012 and in March 2013, calling on the government to provide information about the missing men.

Angola has experienced an increasing number of public protests since 2011 as first youths, and later civil war veterans demonstrated in the capital, Luanda, and other cities. The youth movement has called for social reforms and the resignation of President José Eduardo dos Santos, now in power for 33 years, while war veterans have been demanding long-overdue social benefits.

The authorities have reacted by banning and violently repressing the protests, arbitrarily arresting protesters and holding unfair trials. Police and plain-clothes security agents have carried out widespread intimidation and pervasive surveillance.

Since 2011, protesters have lodged numerous complaints with the police regarding violence by plain-clothes security agents, and police inaction, in the face of violence against protesters and some journalists and observers. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any credible police investigation into any of those cases.

“Two men have been missing for a year, and the government’s lack of action only heightens concerns about the involvement of the security forces,” Lefkow said. “The government needs to facilitate an independent investigation, including a visit by the United Nations expert on enforced disappearances.”

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