Amnesty International on Monday accused the Angolan authorities of escalating a crackdown on dissent in recent months by using disproportionate and unnecessary force, including unlawful killings, to disperse protests and tackle breaches of state of emergency regulations imposed to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Amnesty International and Angolan human rights organization, OMUNGA, have documented numerous violations by law enforcement, including the killing of ten people between May and September 2020 by members of the National Police and National Armed Forces tasked with implementing COVID-19 restrictions. The youngest victim was a 14-year-old boy.
“What we are witnessing in Angola is a full-frontal assault on human rights. The state is using security forces to silence people and deny them their rights to the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. What’s even more chilling are the unlawful killings of Angolans, deemed to have broken COVID-19 rules, by security forces,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Angolan authorities must immediately stop the use of unlawful force by security forces, investigate violations and hold perpetrators to account. Instead of targeting protesters, the authorities should create a conducive environment for people to express themselves. Peaceful protest to demand that leaders do better is not a crime,” said João Malavindele, Executive Director of OMUNGA.
Recent wave of protest
Several recent peaceful protests, including one on 11 November against the high cost of living in Luanda, have been met with unlawful use of force by the police, with a number of protesters and passersby arrested, then released.
COVID-19 has deepened social and economic inequalities in the country, fanning hunger, unemployment and popular discontent. Since September, people have been regularly taking to the streets to protest against widespread hunger and poverty. Authorities have responded with unlawful force, with security forces using water cannons, rubber bullets, batons and tear gas to unlawfully disperse the protesters.
A peaceful protest criticizing precarious living conditions and calling for municipal elections was met with police force in the streets of Luanda and Huambo provinces on 24 October 2020. In Luanda, the Angolan National Police (Polícia Nacional de Angola – PNA) put up barricades to prevent protesters from gathering at the meeting point and arbitrarily arrested 103 protesters and passersby.
Those arrested faced a summary trial between 26 October and 1 November. The Luanda Provincial Court convicted 71 people for the crime of disobedience and sentenced them each to one month in prison, converted to a fine. The protesters filed an appeal, and the Supreme Court is yet to decide on the case.
One day before the 24 October demonstrations, President João Lourenço’s issued a presidential decree, prohibiting gatherings of more than five people in the streets.
Following the thwarted demonstrations of 24 October, grassroots movements called for demonstrations across the country on 11 November to mark 45 years of independence. Authorities responded with violence, including shooting into the air and firing rubber bullets, killing one protester in Luanda municipality, Inocêncio de Matos, a 26-year-old university student, and injuring dozens of others. The autopsy is yet to confirm the cause of Inocêncio’s death.
Grassroots movements are preparing for another national protest on 10 December, to mark International Human Rights Day and Amnesty International and OMUNGA are urging the government to immediately stop using unlawful police force against peaceful protestors.
The two organizations are also calling for an end to the practice of arbitrary dispersal of peaceful assemblies and for full respect for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for all persons in Angola.