Protests to demand local elections, jobs and better living conditions violently repressed

Angolan President Joao Lourenco at the Presidential Palace in Luanda, Angola February 17, 2020. Andrew Caballero-Reynold/Pool via REUTERS/Gallo Images

Peaceful Assembly

Police use excessive force against protesters, arresting over 100 people

On 24th October 2020, protesters gathered in Luanda to demand the holding of local elections, which were postponed, and the rising costs of living. Police responded forcefully to the protests, which were organised by social movements, including the movement Movimento Jovens Pelas Autarquias (Youth Movement for Municipal Elections). According to news reports, police occupied the streets from the early morning, and were reinforced by military officers at the Cemitério da Santana and 1º de Maio square, where the protest was planned to end. Several activists told media they were subjected to police brutality during the protest. The protest organisers claim that two people died, at least 50 were injured and 387 disappeared, while government denied that any people died. 

On 23rd October 2020 at midnight, a presidential decree on the State of Emergency came into force, introducing more stringent measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 including the prohibition of gatherings of more of five people. 

Human rights organisation OMUNGA warned in a letter to international organisations that there is 'a resurgence of the culture of violence', which 'the President of the Republic promised to combat and reverse'.

Over 100 people, including six journalists and one media worker (see under Expression) were arrested during the protest. On 1st November 2020, The Provincial Court of Luanda sentenced 71 people to one month in prison for 'disobedience' with the prison sentence converted to a fine, and acquitted 27 people. The summary trial of the protesters, which started on 26th October 2020, sparked protests in front of the Luanda Court to demand their release. On 27th October 2020, police reportedly used tear gas to disperse the protesters, while the Rapid Intervention Police were deployed in surrounding streets to disperse protesters who reportedly attempted to block roads and threw stones and other objects in response. 

On 11th November 2020, Angola's Independence Day, activists and protesters returned to the streets, despite a ban issued by the Governor of Luanda using the State of Emergency. Police erected barricades at the Santa Ana cemetery, the starting point of the march, and police officers and plainclothes officers were deployed throughout the city. Roadblocks to the Cacuaco, Benfica and Viana neighbourhoods were reported. Police used live ammunition, tear gas, water cannon, dogs and batons to disperse protesters. Activists told Human Rights Watch they heard live ammunition near the Congolese market, where a protest was taking place. One person - Inocêncio de Matos - was killed and several injured, including activists Nito Alves and Laurinda Gouveia who were seriously injured and taken to hospital. Others were detained. Activist and rapper Luaty Beirão and others were stopped on their way to the protest and searched by police officers while Beirão was broadcasting live on Facebook. Once officers found a banner with 'Arrest, Kill, Obey', Beirao and two others were arrested and taken to an unknown destination. 

Protests took place in other localities. For example, in Ndalatando, in the province of Kwanza Norte, police reportedly fired live ammunition and tear gas against protesters, and detained 16 people who were released later. According to news reports, three organisers of the protests in Balombo in the province of Benguela, were arrested the day before the protest, on 10th November 2020. Protests took place in other provinces, such as Huíla, Huambo, Kwanza Sul, Moxico, Cabinda, Uíge, and by diaspora in Brazil, Portugal and the United Kingdom. 

On 21st November 2020, a new protest took place in Luanda under the banner 'Angola says enough'. The protest occurred without incidents. 

Expression

Journalists detained, physically attacked during protest

At least six journalists and one media worker were detained during the protests of 24th October 2020. Four of them were held in custody for more than two days. Incidents documented by press freedom organisations Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without Borders (RSF) include: 

  • Journalists for radio station Rádio Essencial, Suely de Melo and Carlos Tomé, photographer for newspaper Valor Económico, Santos Samuesseca and their driver were forced out of their car, beaten and detained. The four were reportedly interrogated by a public prosecutor and released after 50 hours. Their equipment - a camera and cell phones - was confiscated and not returned. 
  • Domingos Caiombo and Octávio Zoba of TV Zimbo were detained while covering the protests and were ordered to delete their footage of the protests. They were released the same day without charge. 
  • AFP photographers Osvaldo Silva and Georges Nsimba were briefly detained and likewise forced to delete their images and footage. Silva told RSF that police officers kicked and slapped him and hit him with batons. 

Arnaud Froger of RSF commented:

"These arrests and attacks constitute a disturbing setback that recalls the dark hours of the dictatorship. Three years after President José Eduardo dos Santos’ departure, press freedom is still largely unrealized. If the authorities are sincere in their desire to turn the page on the years of predatory practices towards the media, they have no choice but to condemn these acts and punish those responsible.”

The Angolan Union of Journalists (AUJ) condemned the detention of journalists.

Cyberattacks against a news site and journalist

Media outlet Correio Angolense and freelance journalist Siona Casimiro were targeted by cyberattacks following their reporting on alleged embezzlement of public funds by the president's chief of staff Edeltrudes Costa, said RSF. Correio Angolense's news site crashed on 25th September 2020 after receiving thousands of simultaneous connection attempts. RSF further said that many Angolan media outlets have chosen not to report on the case, a story first reported by Portuguese television channel Televisão Independente (TVI). Journalist Carlos Rosado reportedly decided to no longer work for Zimbo TV after his proposal to work on the embezzlement allegations was rejected and he was excluded from participating in a debate on Palanca TV on the business climate in Angola.