The continued detention of two human rights defenders held on fabricated charges of ‘crimes against the security of the state’ is a blatant oppression of freedom of expression and a mockery of justice in Angola, said Amnesty International and four other human rights organizations two months after the men were arrested.
Jose Marcos Mavungo and Arão Bula Tempo were arrested on 14 March 2015 solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly in the country’s Cabinda region.
Amnesty International, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, the International Commission of Jurists and the SADC Lawyers’ Association are calling for their immediate and unconditional release.
“The use of state security and other crimes to punish those expressing critical opinions in Angola is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to crush dissent.” Said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.
“There is no basis for accusing these two human rights defenders of any crime, let alone crimes against the security of state. Since the day of their politically motivated arrest, the Angolan authorities have denied these men their right to a fair and speedy trial. This is a violation of their human rights and a mockery of justice. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
The two human rights defenders are currently held in Cabinda civil prison (Cadeia Civil de Cormaca de Cabinda) facing charges of crimes against the security of the state that could lead to a 15 year jail sentence for rebellion and 10 years for collaborating with foreigners.
Jose Marcos Mavungo was arrested at a Church compound as he was going to his regular morning mass on 14 March 2015. The governor of Cabinda had earlier banned his planned protest against human rights violations and bad governance in Cabinda for “representing lack of honour and consideration owed to people and government institutions”.
Two days after his arrest, he was charged with sedition. However, authorities decided to submit his case for further investigation and later decided to charge him with the crime of rebellion, a much more severe crime. The fact that the charges against him were changed without any new facts relating to the crime reflects the arbitrariness of the case.
Arão Bula Tempo, a human rights lawyer and the president of the provincial Council of the Angolan Bar Association in Cabinda, was arrested on the same day by security forces in Cabinda near the border with Congo Brazzaville.
A week earlier, on 6 March 2015, he had delivered a speech stressing the need for the independence of lawyers in Cabinda and other parts of Angola. He has since been charged with “collaborating with foreigners”.
“Angola is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The authorities must respect and protect the right to freedom of expression and opinion contained in both these treaties, as well as in its own constitution.” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Exectuive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
“The continued detention of the two human rights defenders flies in the face of the Angolan government’s claim that it is serious about respecting and ensuring the rights of its citizens.”
As a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Angola has signed up to the stated aims of attempting to achieve development, peace and security through regional integration, built on democratic principles and equitable and sustainable development.
“Unless it immediately and unconditionally releases these two men it will completely undermine any confidence in its role it has as an important regional power in Southern Africa,” said Makanatsa Makonese, SADC Lawyers’ Association Executive Secretary.
“The ongoing detention of Mavungo and Tempa constitutes an assault on their right to freedom of expression and proof of the Angolan government’s increasingly repressive approach to human rights defenders,” said Jacob van Garderen, National Director of Lawyers for Human Rights.
On the evening of 12 May 2015, Arão Bula Tempo was conditionally released pending trial. Jose Marcos Mavungo, however, remained in pre-trial detention.