Angolan activists jailed for reading
It is not every day that people are accused of planning a coup simply for talking about democracy. Last June, this fate befell 15 political and human rights activists in Angola when they were arrested for organizing a discussion in a bookstore in the capital, Luanda. They are currently under house arrest and remain on trial.
The book reading of Gene Sharp’s essay on nonviolent resistance From Dictatorship to Democracy earned the activists charges ranging from preparing a coup d’état to an assassination attempt on the president, José Eduardo dos Santos.
The show trial of a total of 17 activists, who campaign to hold Angola’s ruling elites accountable for a range of social ills, began last November. Several of the accused went on hunger strike to protest against their treatment. Among them was well-known rapper Luaty Beirão, who starved himself for 36 days. Beirão’s case attracted protests from around the world, demanding ‘Liberdade Já!’ (Freedom Now) – and may have prompted the government to move activists from prison to house arrest just before Christmas.
The regime of President dos Santos – in power for over 36 years – has long drawn criticism for its authoritarian misrule of Angola, where gross violations of human rights and civil liberties are routine.
After three decades of crippling civil war (1975-2002), Angola now has one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies due to its plentiful natural resources, especially oil.
But dos Santos uses this new-found oil wealth to maintain his grip on power. Angola has the world’s highest mortality rate for children under five, despite being classified as a ‘middle-income country’ based on its GDP.
The activists’ case has helped expose this extreme inequality and Angola’s brutal rule to a worldwide audience. They deserve our support.