Angola: Sentencing and arbitrary detention of Mr. Manuel Nito Alves in the context of the continuing judicial harassment of the 16 pro-democracy activists

24/02/2016
Urgent Appeal

New information
AGO 001 / 0615 / OBS 053.2
Judicial harassment / Arbitrary detention / House arrest
Angola
February 23, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Angola.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing and arbitrary detention of Mr. Manuel Nito Alves in the context of the continuing judicial harassment of the 16 pro-democracy activists, including Messrs. Henrique Luaty Beirão, Nuno Alvaro Dala, Nelson Mendes Dos Santos, Alfonso Jojo Matias, Sedrick de Carvalho, Fernando António Tómas, Hitler Chiconda, ItalianoArante Kivuvu, Benedito Dali, Albano Bingobingo, José GomesHata and Inocénio De Brito, Ms. Rosa Kusso Conde, Ms. Laurinda Manuel Gouveia as well as Mr. Domingos da Cruz, journalist, and Mr. Osvaldo Correia Caholo, a reserve military officer acquainted to one of the 16.

According to the information received, on February 23, 2016, the hearing of 46 declarants summonsed to be heard by the court resumed. On February 19, 2016 the Luanda Provincial Tribunal renewed the house arrest measure against the fifteen until April 19, 2016, dismissing the request of the activists’ lawyer to release them.

Moreover, on February 8, 2016, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal sentenced Mr. Manuel Nito Alves to six months of imprisonment and to pay a fine of AKZ 50,000 (approx. 284 Euros) for contempt of Court (disturbing the order of the Court) during the trial of the 16 pro-democracy activists.

Mr. Manuel Nito Alves was allegedly heard to have called the trial “a farce” when his father, Mr. Fernando Baptista, was being interrogated by the Counsel for the public prosecutor’s. Mr. Alves was silenced then accused by the presiding judge Januário Domingos of “interjecting disrespectfully” and “offending and disrespecting the court”, before being taken away by the authorities. He was tried summarily and he is currently incarcerated at the Viana prison outside of Luanda.

The Observatory recalls that fifteen of the accused, including Mr. Manuel Nito Alves have been on house arrest since December 18, 2015, following nearly six months of detention [1]. The 17 are accused of “crime of preparatory acts to practice rebellion” (Article 21) and “plotting against the President and other sovereign institutions” (Article 53) for participating in meetings to discuss human rights violations and governance concerns in Angola. In addition to the charges indicated above, Mr. Osvaldo Correia Caholo is also being charged with “misappropriation of documents” (Article 424 of the Penal Code), Mr. Manuel Nito Alves with “illegal alteration of his name/identity” (Article 234) and Mr. Henrique Luaty Beirão with three crimes of falsification of documents (Article 216).

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of Mr. Manuel Nito Alves, which attempts to punish him for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Moreover, the Observatory expresses its deepest concern over the continued judicial harassment of the 16 pro-democracy activists together with Osvaldo Correia Caholo, which seems to result from their peaceful human rights activities. It calls upon the Angola authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Manuel Nito Alves and lift the house arrest measure against the pro-democracy activists and drop all charges against them.

Background information:

On June 20, 2015, thirteen pro-democracy activists were arrested by the police while participating in a book club meeting to discuss human rights violations and governance concerns in Angola. The police carried out searches without warrants and seized IT hardware from homes of some of the people they suspected of taking part in the meeting.

On the same day, following their arrest, the Director General of the Criminal Investigative Service issued a statement saying that they are being accused of “preparing acts aimed at disrupting public order and security in the country”. It was later reported that they are being charged with “rebellion”, “attempted coup d’Etat” and “crimes against national security”.

Furthermore, on June 21, 2015, Mr. Domingos da Cruz was also arrested. Mr. da Cruz was initially supposed to take part in the meeting as a speaker, but he finally did not attend the meeting.

On June 24, Mr. Osvaldo Caholo, a reserve military personnel and university professor, was arrested after the police found photos of him during a search conducted in the residence of one of the thirteen youth activists.

On June 30, 2015, CaptainMuhondo Zenóbio Lázarowas subsequently arrested on the grounds of his alleged links with Mr. Osvaldo Caholo (they were classmate). To date, no further information is available on the situation of Captain Zenóbio Lázaro.

Most of the young people arrested and detained are pro-democracy activists (except lieutenant Osvaldo Caholo and Zenóbio Lázaro) who have been organizing peaceful protests against the 36-year-regime of Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos since 2011. These protests were often shut down after only five minutes and protesters were sometimes arrested and tortured.

It was also reported that the authorities threatened the mothers of the young prisoners who were getting mobilised. The ruling MPLA party has indeed prevented any kind of mobilisation organised by supporters asking for their release; and a peaceful demonstration by relatives of the prisoners that was organised in Luanda on August 8, 2015 was met with attacks and was violently repressed by the security forces on the ground.

On September 16, 2015, the office of the Prosecutor confirmed the charges of “crime of preparatory acts to practice rebellion” and “plotting against the President and other sovereign institutions” against the 14 pro-democracy activists arrested in June 2015. Both provisions are in reference of Article 28 of the Law 23/10 of December 3, 2010 on Crimes against Security of the State. In addition to the charges indicated above, Mr. Osvaldo Correia Caholo was also charged with “misappropriation of documents”, Mr. Manuel Nito Alves with “illegal alteration of his name/identity” and Mr. Henrique Luaty Beirão with three crimes of falsification of documents. Moreover, Ms. Rosa Kusso Conde and Ms. Laurinda Manuel Gouveia, two regular attendees of the book club meetings, were also charged on similar accusations but were not detained.

Although the Public Ministry formally signed the accusations on September 16, 2015, it was only on September 30 that the defence lawyers and families of the detainees were informed of the charges, following a press conference organised by the latter.

On November 16, 2015, the trial of the seventeen finally opened before the Luanda Provincial Tribunal [2].

Several of the accused were subjected to acts of ill-treatment and violence during their arrest and detention. Some of them out of despair or to alert the general public on their ordeal, attempted suicide or participated to hunger strikes. The last incident concerned Mr. Sedrick de Carvalho who on December 15, 2015, attempted suicide. He was fortunately rescued by the prison guards. A few days earlier, in an open letter, he had threatened to commit suicide in protest against his 176 days of unlawful detention. He added that, during his six months in detention, he had spent more than 2,000 hours straight in solitary confinement without being able to see daylight. On December 14, 2015, eight out of the 15 were on hunger strike, which they ended upon their release on December 18 [3].

On December 15, 2015, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal approved the request of the Public Prosecutor to place the pro-democracy activists under house arrest as of December 18.

On January 25, 2016, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal postponed to February 8, 2016 the hearing in the trial against the 17 above-mentioned persons. The Court was still due to hear more than 50 declarants [4].

On February 8, 2016, the trial resumed until February 10, when it was again postponed until February 23, 2016. Approximately 46 declarants are scheduled to be heard by the court.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Angola, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Henrique Luaty Beirão, Manuel Nito Alves, Nuno Alvaro Dala, Nelson Mendes Dos Santos, Alfonso Jojo Matias, Sedrick de Carvalho, Fernando António Tómas, Hitler Chiconda, ItalianoArante Kivuvu, Benedito Dali, Albano Bingobingo, José GomesHata, Inocénio De Brito, Domingos da Cruz as well as Ms. Rosa Kusso Conde and Ms. Laurinda Manuel Gouveia as well as all those unduly associated with the above-mentioned case and all human rights defenders in Angola;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Manuel Nito Alves, lift the house arrest measure on the fourteen other accused and, more generally, release all human rights defenders detained in Angola, as these restrictive measures seem to merely sanction their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against the sixteen activists and all those associated with the above-mentioned case and all human rights defenders in Angola;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with:
- Its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;
- Its Article 6(c), which foresees that “everyone has the right, to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”;
- Its Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Angola.

Addresses:

· Mr. Ângelo de Barros Veiga Tavares, Minister of Interior, Avenida 4 de Fevereiro n.º 106, Luanda República de Angola ; Tel: +244 222 390 423
· Mr. Rui Jorge Carneiro Mangueira, Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Rua 17 de Setembro, Cidade Alta, Luanda República de Angola, Fax: +244 222 370 150 / 222 370 366
· H.E. Mr. Apolinário Jorge Correia, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Angola to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Rue de Lausanne 45-47 CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 732 30 72, E-mail: contact@mission-angola.ch
· H.E. Elizabeth Simbrão, Ambassador, Embassy of Angola in Brussels, Rue Franz Merjay 182 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Tel: +32 23461872; Fax: +32 23440894, E-mail: angola.embassy.brussels@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Angola in your respective country.

Paris-Geneva, February 23, 2016

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
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