Why the “Angola 15” trial is a parody of justice?


The trial of pro-democracy activists arrested in June 2015, finally opened on November 16, 2015 before the Luanda Provincial Tribunal. They are charged with “preparatory acts to rebellion” and “plotting against the President and other institutions”, both of which constitute crimes against the security of the State.

Since then, Messrs. Henrique Luaty Beirão (a.k.a. Brigadeiro Mata-Frakuxz), Manuel Nito Alves, Nuno Alvaro Dala, Nelson Dibango Mendes Dos Santos, Alfonso Jojo Matias (a.k.a. Mbanza Hamza), Sedrick de Carvalho, Fernando António Tómas (a.k.a. Nicola Radical), Hitler Chiconda (a.k.a. Samussuku), Italiano Arante Kivuvu, Benedito Dali (a.k.a. Dito Dali), Albano Bingobingo (a.k.a. Albano Liberdade), José Gomes Hata (a.k.a. Cheik Hata), Inocénio De Brito (a.k.a. Drux), Domingos da Cruz, as well as Osvaldo Caholo have been in preventive detention, and face up to 12 years of imprisonment. Two other human rights defenders, Rosa Kusso Conde and Laurinda Manuel Gouveia, are facing similar charges, but are not detained.

The 17 activists are known pro-democracy activists, who have been organizing peaceful protests against the 35-year-regime of Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos since 2011. These protests were often repressed by the authorities. From May to June 2015, they held a handful of meetings, on Saturdays, at the bookstore “Livraria Kiazele”, in Luanda, to discuss peaceful means of protest. Inspired by the work of American academic Gene Sharp, the journalist, university lecturer and fellow detainee Domingos da Cruz, adapted Sharp’s writings to the Angolan reality in a manuscript which he entitled “Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoid a New Dictatorship – a Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola”. The manuscript served as a starting point for the youths’ debates on peaceful means of protest. It is being used as the primary evidence of the youths’ intentions to seize power, which the state alleges would have involved violent means.

Numerous national and international observers had announced their intention to attend the trial hearings, including the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT). Unfortunately, since the beginning of the proceedings, access to the courtroom has 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 allowed into the courtroom. Some journalists were allowed to enter the room on the eight day of the hearing, on the condition that they do not film, record nor take pictures of the session. The room where the proceedings take place is relatively small given the number of accused.

The accused are brought into the courtroom only when and once they have been heard by the court.

The information provided below has been gathered from several independent sources. Unfortunately, it arises from the information provided below that the proceedings are marred with numerous violations of the right to a fair trial.

The “Angola 15” must released! Take action for the release of the #Angola15 on #ForFreedom

Thursday, December 3, 2015 - Monday, December 13, 2015

During the hearings, four additional defendants were called in to provide testimony, namely, Arante Kivuvu, José Gomes Hata, Sedrick de Carvalho, 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 New Dictatorship – a Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola” and took part in the meetings as both colleagues sought to edit and improve the manuscript with the critical contributions emerging from the debates. That is his crime, according to the state authorities.

During the hearings, rough footages of the book club meetings and debates were displayed. The footages were screening only parts of the meetings taken out of context in order to sustain the accusations pending against the activists.
All the defendants who appeared during these sessions categorically refused to respond to the questions related to the content of the videos, upholding that the footages were illegally obtained and were not the original ones.

The defense filed another complaint to the Constitutional Court insisting on that matter, highlighting the fact that according to the Angolan legislation, material can not be used as evidence if it has already been shared with other people and institutions, as it has been the case with the videos, shared to the media.
Moreover, the defendants issued a public letter, directed to President dos Santos, indicating their intention to initiate a collective hunger strike to protest against delays in the trial.

On December 10, 2015, four of the defendants started a hunger strike, including Sedrick de Carvalho, Luaty Beirão, Domingos da Cruz and José Gomes Hata. On December 14, 2015, they were eight defendants on hunger strike. This is the second time the human rights defenders start a hunger strike to raise awareness about their case. In the previous occasion, in October 2015, they were protesting against the excessive length of their pre-trial detention, which exceeded the 90-day limit prescribed by law. After such 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 and friends from the São Paulo Prison, Sedrick de Carvalho threatened to commit suicide 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 in solitary confinement without being able to see daylight. According to him, this is a deliberate strategy by the Angolan authorities to drive the prisoners insane with psychological torture, humiliation and other abuses.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Luaty Beirão remained silent as the prosecution kept probing him with questions. The prosecution presented as evidence items such as a chalk board that was used in the lectures the group held to discuss strategies from the book “Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoiding a New Dictatorship – Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola” of Domingos da Cruz who is also being tried.The prosecution presented two videos. The defense asked for transcripts of them. The videos have images of the two meetings the young activists had before the 15 were arrested between June 20 and 24. Henrique Luaty Beirão stated that he was not committing a crime by claiming that Angola was 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 to overthrow the president. He said the gatherings were solely academic discussions around a book, and that there were no personal political agendas. Beirão criticized what he called Angolan "pseudodemocracy" and repeated calls he has been making since 2011 for the resignation of President José Eduardo dos Santos whom he called a dictator — just as in the secret recordings that the prosecution has presented in the trial.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Inocéncio De Brito (a.k.a. Drux) was called in to speak. The judge screened again the same video presented at the previous hearings of Domingos 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 defense asked questions regarding the circumstances of the arrest and the current detention of the accused. Domingo da Cruz and Manuel Nito Alves were supposed to appear before the Court since Thursday. They were not present because they are sick. They had to see a doctor. The defendants reported acts of ill-treatment by prison guards in the prison cells.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The video that was secretly filmed during one meeting attended by the activist group was screened again. The video footage displayed Domingo da Cruz and Luaty Beirão discussing about the struggle for freedom and national 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 and denounced President José Eduardo dos Santos’ rule for 36 years. At some point of the hearing, the mother of Alfonso Matias fainted in the courtroom. She was immediately taken to the hospital.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Nuno Alvaro Dala was called in to speak again. The court tried to play the defendants off against each other, mentioning an alleged letter written by him, in which he accused Domingos da Cruz of treason. He denied having written any such letter.

Following the pressure exercised by the Journalist Union, the Judge allowed some media representatives into the court room, on the condition that they do not film, record nor take pictures of the session.
The defense team submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court for Habeas Corpus. They are contesting the decision of the Supreme Court which 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 speak to him prior to the court session. The lawyers complain to the judge, who dismissed the complaints. The judge also refused to register this matter in the minutes of the hearing. In protest, a defense lawyer left the room. An assigned lawyer was then appointed to defend Mr. Dala, who refused to speak in the absence of his own lawyer.

Another part of the video was screened, revealing a discussion between Messrs. da Cruz and Beirão about the necessity to mobilise international support and solidarity with their group, and condemning the involvement of any military groups. The judge stroke out the complaints filed the day before by the defense, and indicated that the decision could be appealed to a higher court. The defense invoked Articles 6 and 34 of the Constitution, to no avail. Speaking to the media, the defense lawyers announced their intention to file formal complaints against the judge and the Bar Association with regards to the violations of basic rules and rights of the lawyers during the trial proceedings.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The session resumed with the questioning of Domingos da Cruz, for almost five hours. The Public Prosecutor interrogated him again about his book, asked questions on the relationship between “a revolution” and “the military”, as well as on notions of funding and violence. The defendant systematically responded “nothing to declare” to questions asked.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The judge ordered to resume the reading of the book. Later on, only three defendants were questioned and allowed to speak, namely Manuel Nito Alves, Hitler Chiconda and Domingos da Cruz. In the meantime, activists who had come to show support to the “Angola 15” were severely reprimanded by the police. Twelve individuals were arrested and held at the Benfica Police station for six hours until the trial session was over. The prosecution requested an authorisation to screen a video footage which had been filed as an evidence against the accused. The defense lawyers objected, on the ground that this footage had been illegally obtained. Nonetheless, the request was approved by the judge. The defense filed a complaint against the judge´s decision, and also requested the suppression of all evidence unlawfully collected from the defendant´s computers (and other electronic devices) which were planned to be presented in court. The request was not taken in consideration. The video footage pictured Domingo da Cruz speaking during a group discussion, reading and explaining some passages of his book to Henrique Luaty Beirão and another unidentified individual. Mr. da Cruz was further interrogated about the circumstances of his detention and the nature of the discussion meetings.
While the trial hearings were scheduled to last until November 20, they resumed the following after.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mr. Domingos da Cruz, a journalist and academic, author of the unpublished book “Tools to destroy a dictator and avoid a new dictatorship - Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola”, was in turn interrogated by the judge and the public attorney about his book. When Mr. da Cruz was asked who was the dictator mentioned in the title and what were the tools to “destroy” him, he responded “read the book!”. The judge asked for a copy of the book to be brought to him and ordered the reading of the entire book in the court room. One of the defense lawyers left the room outraged. By the time they got to page 36, the session was adjourned to the next day. A court clerk read out the 187-page manuscript in court - a task which took two full days.
At the end of the session, the judge ordered to only bring to the court the defendants who were called to testify. The others would remain in prison. The defense lawyers challenged the decision. Representatives from the EU, US and Norway were present outside of the courtroom every day, but again denied access.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The railing on the side of the court was sealed with red colored zinc sheets to restrict access to the courthouse. No cellphones and water bottles are allowed inside the court room. All t-shirts showing slogans of support with the accused were confiscated by the judge. Five of the “Angola 15”, namely Nuno Alvaro Dala, Alfonso Jojo Matias, Henrique Luaty Beirão, Hitler Chiconda, and Benedito Dali were announced that they were facing additional charges of “destruction of state property” for writing slogans on their prison uniforms. Allegations of physical violence against the defendant Albano Bingobingo were presented to the Court as well as against Alfonso Jojo Matias and Hitler Chiconda, both assaulted by the police the day before. Hitler Chiconda was in turn questioned. The defense lawyer asked him if he had a gun or knew how to operate one. The prosecution objected. Finally, the Court charged him with an additional accusation of “defamation against Angolan President Dos Santos” for having written “Dos Santos´ prisoner!” on his prison uniform. Representatives from the EU, US and Norway were present outside of the courtroom every day, but again denied access.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Observers, including journalists, were again barred from the courtroom and told to return only for the reading of the verdict. The atmosphere was tense. The Military Intelligence and Security Service of the Angolan Armed Forces deployed 80 officers to the trial. Half of them posed as unknown relatives of the defendants or law students and filled the courtroom. As a result, diplomats, observers and the public were kept outside of the courtroom. The other half of the armed forces was deployed in the vicinity of the courthouse. Supporters of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party continued to rally outside the court, where tents were strategically provided for them. They are wearing and chanting the slogan “Justice without pressure”.

Two of the “Angola 15”, namely Alfonso Jojo Matias and Hitler Chiconda, were assaulted by the police for wearing slogans on their prison uniforms. The interrogation of Manuel Nito Alves resumed. Representatives from the EU, US and Norway were present outside of the courtroom every day, but again denied access.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The trial opens before the Luanda Provincial Tribunal. The defense is not able to see the complete 1,000 long file case ahead of the hearing, including part of the evidence against the Angola 15, which is a procedural violation under Angola laws and international human rights law. Furthermore, although it was announced that the trial would be open to the public, only two relatives per detainee were allowed inside the court room. Representatives from several embassies, including the United States, the European Union, Norway and Portugal were barred from observing the court proceedings. Mr. Manuel Nito Alves, the youngest defendant, was interrogated during about seven hours. The main questions he was asked were related to a trip to Brazil, where he attended the Conectas Annual Human Rights Colloquium. Questions related notably to the funding of his trip, and contacts made there. A video of an interview he gave to a Brazilian journalist was presented to the Court as evidence against him, pointing out to some contradictions in his declarations to the court with regards to the ones he made at the pre-trial investigation stage. Mr. Alves responded that during the pre-trial investigation, he was being pressured by the instructors.

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