Writing : Epito Repórter

Three international organizations, namely Advancing Rights in Southern Africa, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a disapproval note, condemning the arrests of activists in the “Enclave de Cabinda”, the northernmost province in the country that keeps activists from “UCI – Union of Cabindeses for Independence” arrested without plausible explanations.

In a note sent to our newsroom, the subscribing organizations say that they noted with concern the continued arbitrary detention of Maurício Gimbi, President of UCI – Union of Cabindeses for Independence, João Mampuela, Vice President of UCI – Union of Cabindeses for Independence and André Bonzela, director of the office of the president of the UCI in Cabinda. The three activists were arrested in June 2020, days after the display of MIC leaflets on the streets of the city of Cabinda.

The brochures carried the following messages: “For the end of the right to bear arms” and “Cabinda is not Angola”. Despite the peaceful content of the leaflets, they were detained, arrested and accused of rebellion (Article 21 of Law 23/10), outrage to the State (Article 25 of Law 23/10) and criminal association (Article 8 of Law 3/14) . The arrest and prosecution of these activists solely for the exercise of their rights is a violation of the Constitution of Angola and its regional and international obligations. The note added that on June 28, 2020, at least five plainclothes police officers arbitrarily arrested Gimbi and Bonzela at a taxi stop in the city of Cabinda.

According to their lawyers, the police physically assaulted them during the arrest. The following day, June 29, 2020, at least eight police officers arrested Mampuela at around 5 am in his home. The agents, who had a search warrant at Mampuela’s house, arrested him after finding leaflets of the Movement of which they are part. Although the Cabinda Court granted a bond to Bonzela set at 300,000 Kwanzas, pending trial, he remains in detention for failure to pay the fixed amount.

The Cabinda Court rejected the request for the provisional release of Gimbi and Mampuela on the basis of a criminal record arising from their arrest in January 2019, where they were accused of “criminal association” (Article 8 of Law 3/14), “rebellion” ( Article 21 of Law 23/10), “insult (outrage) to the State” (Article 25 of Law 23/10) and “public disturbance and resistance” (Articles 185 and 186 of the Penal Code). These charges also involved his participation in planning a peaceful demonstration at the time.

Since their arrest, the three have been imprisoned in the Cabinda Civil Prison in worryingly and inhumane conditions, the note goes on. According to their lawyers, they were deprived of drinking water and adequate food. The cell they are in is overcrowded, forcing some prisoners to sleep on the floor and in the prison corridor. In addition, prison authorities would not have implemented any COVID-19 prevention measures in prison. Prisons, by their nature, make it difficult to maintain social distance and, taking into account the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased risk for detainees.

The note warns of the guidelines of the World Health Organization that recommends decongesting prisons and urges States to refrain from imposing penalties that can be converted into fines and that do not involve the imposition or threat of imposing serious bodily harm, sexual assault or known likelihood of physical harm.

The 3 organizations were deeply concerned about the continuation of the arrest of the trio whose health is deteriorating as a result of inadequate food, together with the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that were subjected to prison officials and the prison population in general in the Civil Prison of Cabinda Province, is seen as a risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

The subscribers understand that President João Lourenço’s mandate was hailed as representing a new era in promoting and respecting human rights in Angola. Although they said they noticed many improvements in some parts of the country, the situation in Cabinda remains increasingly worrying, with many human rights activists being arrested for exercising their fundamental rights.

The organizations understand that President Lourenço follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, President José Eduardo dos Santos, responding with repression to the situation in Cabinda. Arresting individuals like Gimbi, Mampuela and Bonzela for only defending the rights of the people of Cabinda only aggravates discontent among citizens.

These organizations defending human rights Urge the Government of Angola to interact with the people of Cabinda and resolve their legitimate concerns, which include the fact that they have been underdeveloped for years, even though they are the repository of 60% of the country’s rich oil resources .

In the light of the above, we call on the Government of Angola to 1) Immediately and unconditionally release Maurício Gimbi, André Bonzela and João Mampuela, 2) While the activists remain detained, ensure that they and other prisoners detained in the Provincial Civil Prison Cabinda have access to drinking water, adequate food and decent sleep conditions in accordance with the Robben Island Guidelines for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa, 3) Implement urgently appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prison, in line with the COVID-19 prevention measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), including physical hygiene, sufficient sanitation facilities and the decongestion of the Cabinda Province Civil Prison to ensure adequate social distance, 4) Defend the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Cabinda, and to ensure that Cabinda residents can exercise these rights pac specifically without fear of reprisals and 5) Engage genuinely with the people of Cabinda, in order to listen and respond to their concerns, in particular the lack of development in the region and their right to benefit from the region’s natural resources.