Angola’s youth have taken to the streets of Luanda in demonstrations calling for an end to President José Eduardo dos Santos’s 34-year rule and an explanation for the disappearance of two youthful activists allegedly abducted by state-linked militias.
The protests, generally involving several hundred people, are the first expression of popular discontentment in Angola for three decades and have clearly been inspired by the Arab Spring.
At the centre of the turbulence is the Movement of the Revolutionary Youth of Angola (Movimento Jovens Revolucionários de Angola, or MJRA), a reincarnation of a dissident group that had been targeted for assassinations in May 1977.
Nine members of the MJRA are known to have been detained by police during peaceful demonstrations in Angola’s Independence Square.
The protesters, who allege they were tortured while in custody, appeared in a court on public disorder charges on September 20 but were acquitted.
While giving interviews to the media in front of the court, they were detained for a second time and charged, once again, with creating public disorder.
Three journalists – Alexandre Salombe from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Angola), Coque Mukuta of the Voice of America, and Rafael Marques de Morais from the paper Maka Angola – have also been charged with disrupting public order.
The activists were released on $15 000 bail after a broad range of individuals and organisations critical of the Dos Santos government provided the money.
They included former Angolan prime minister Marcolino Moco, Rui Tavares, a Portuguese national and member of the European Parliament, Maos Livres (“free hands”), a law firm that specialises in pro bono work, and Vitorino Nhany, secretary general of Unita, Angola’s largest opposition party.
Mukuta has been told to report to the national director of criminal investigation for questioning.
In Lunda-Norte, a province in the northeast of Angola known for its mineral wealth, a representative of another opposition party, Bloco Democratico, is reported to have been severely beaten by police after he was arrested.
Police changed tack after the latest demonstration in Luanda last Saturday by picking up the demonstrators and dropping them off in different parts of the city.
The protesters have demanded that the government account for the whereabouts of Alves Kamulingue and Isaias Kassule, who were abducted on the streets of the capital in May last year by “militias” that activists connect to the Angolan secret services.
They have also demanded an end to government corruption, heavy-handed police treatment of street vendors known as zungueiras, and the enrichment of Dos Santos’s family and friends, especially his billionaire daughter, Isabel dos Santos.
One of the youth activists is 17-year-old Nito Alves, who has been charged with defaming Dos Santos by printing T-shirts carrying the president’s face and the slogan “When war is necessary and urgent …” – the title of a controversial anti-government book by dissident journalist Domingos da Cruz.
Alves, who is believed to be in solitary confinement, reportedly faces charges under a controversial 2010 law that prohibits the insulting of the Republic of Angola or the president “in public meetings or [by] disseminating words, images, writings or sound”.
The law carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
On October 5, Rafael Morais, co-ordinator of the housing pressure group SOS Habitat, was held in custody for seven hours, questioned and later released, during protests against the demolition of mud dwellings by the military police and municipal authorities in the provinces of Benguela, Huila and Luanda.
The dwellings are owned by farmers and peasants, some of whom have lived in these areas for more than 20 years. The authorities cited safety concerns.
Several attempts by the Mail & Guardian to contact the spokesperson for the national police, Aristofanes dos Santos, were unsuccessful.
While giving interviews to the media, they were detained a second time and charged with public disorder.
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