- The Angolan government is again accused of torture and unfair trials in its exclave province of Cabinda, which separatists hold is an occupied territory. Human rights groups claim to have documentation.
"The Angolan government should urgently end torture and unfair trials in state security cases," the US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement today. It holds that fourteen civilians, "who were arbitrarily detained and tortured in military custody," were currently being held on security charges in Cabinda, an oil-rich province that has had a separatist insurgency since Angolan and Cabindan independence.
HRW says it has documentation that, since September 2007, the Angolan Armed Forces had arbitrarily detained at least 15 civilians and six military personnel in Cabinda. All were eventually charged with "crimes against the security of the state," accused of assisting the armed separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave in Cabinda (FLEC). So far, there has been one trial.
On 16 September, a military court in Cabinda convicted a former 'Voice of America' journalist, Fernando Lelo, and four soldiers of state security crimes and sentenced them to 12 years in prison. Human Rights Watch claims that the trial fell far short of international fair trial standards.
"The unfair trial of Fernando Lelo and four soldiers has set a disturbing precedent," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Angola should exonerate and free them, and make sure that future national security trials meet international standards," she adds.
Most of those detained in Cabinda were held in an unofficial military detention centre, where, the group's researchers found, "they were tortured and held in inhumane conditions for months before being transferred to a civilian prison." Most had also spent far more than the 90 days allowed by Angolan law before being charged with any offense.
As a journalist, Mr Lelo had regularly criticised the government for arbitrary arrests and other human rights abuses, and had been briefly detained after covering a police crackdown on church members in 2006. He was arrested in November 2007 and accused of having paid the six soldiers in July 2007 to carry out acts of sabotage.
Defence lawyers and other observers in Cabinda told HRW that the trial, which ended in June, produced no evidence to support the accusations. They said the military judge refused to take into account testimony demonstrating that Mr Lelo was at work when a meeting with the soldiers allegedly took place, and that no evidence was produced that the military personnel even knew him. "The court systematically disregarded defence evidence," HRW holds.
Under Angolan law, civilians should be tried by a civilian court.
The defence lawyer for the six soldiers accused with Mr Lelo told Human Rights Watch the soldiers were arrested without a warrant by military intelligence. He said soldiers and military intelligence personnel tortured them to extort confessions to incriminate Mr Lelo.
"They were beaten with wood and bamboo sticks, car belts, table legs, and electric cables, and tied up with cords. The mother and wife of one detainee were forced to walk naked in the streets of the city. One detainee was subject to a mock execution, and another was shot at, and this resulted in one leg being amputated in the military hospital," the lawyer claimed.
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