Angola: Luanda Book Club Activists Conditionally Released
11 Jul 2016
Statement from PEN International:
08 July 2016
Update #1 to RAN 07/16
PEN International welcomes the decision by the Angolan Supreme Court on 29 June 2016 to conditionally release writer Domingos da Cruz and 16 activists jailed alongside him in Angola. Known as the Luanda Book Club, the activists were arrested in June 2015 and sentenced to between two to eight year’s imprisonment in March 2016 after they were convicted of ‘preparatory acts of rebellion’ and ‘criminal conspiracy’. They were granted conditional release after the Supreme Court upheld a habeus corpus petition filed in April, requesting that the activists be released pending a decision on their appeal to the Constitutional Court. PEN International believes the activists should never have been imprisoned in the first place as this was in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and calls on the authorities to overturn their convictions and sentences immediately.
The youngest member of the group, Nito Alves, was not released alongside the other activists on 29 June as he was also serving a six-month prison term for contempt of court. He was later released on 5 July on order of the Constitutional Court. The 17 activists are not allowed to leave the country and are required to check in with the authorities every month while they wait for the decision on their appeal.
The release of the activists comes shortly after protests were held around the world to mark the one year anniversary of their arrest and to call for their release, and in the wake of a ruling by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that they were arbitrarily detained. According to reports, upon their release the activists walked through the streets of the capital city, Luanda, shouting “Reading is not a crime!”
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Please send appeals:
-Welcoming the conditional release of writer Domingos da Cruz and the 16 other activists who were studying with him
-Calling on the Angolan authorities to overturn the convictions and sentences of the 17 activists
Send appeals to:
Minister of Justice and Human Rights
Rui Jorge Carneiro Mangueira
Ministry of Justice and Human Rights
Rua 17 Setembro, No. 32
Luanda, Republic of Angola
Fax: +244 222 339 914 or +244 222 330 327
Salutation: A sua Excelencia/Your Excellency
***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 7 August 2016***
Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Angola in your country. A list of embassies can be found here:
Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and any responses received.
PEN members are encouraged to publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of the Luanda Book Club/Angola 17.
The activists were arrested after attending a book club where they had gathered to study Domingos da Cruz’s unpublished manuscript, Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoiding a New Dictatorship – Political Philosophy for the Liberation of Angola (inspired by US academic Gene Sharp’s book From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation.) Sharp’s book is described as a blueprint for non-violent resistance to repressive regimes and the activists had met to discuss politics and governance issues. Thirteen of the activists were arrested on 20 June 2015 at the meeting. Domingos da Cruz had been due to attend the meeting but did not and he was arrested the following day on 21 June 2015. Osvaldo Caholo was arrested on 24 June 2015. Two others, Laurinda Gouveia and Rosa Conde, were later charged in connection with the case, but were not initially detained.
Between June and December 2015, 15 of the activists were in jail and some held in solitary confinement. All of the 17 activists were formally charged on 16 September with ‘preparatory acts of rebellion’ and ‘plotting against the president’. Their trial started on 16 November 2015 and was marred by irregularities, leading to fair trial concerns. Two of the activists alleged that they had been tortured and several of the activists went on hunger strike at various points to protest their charges and the delays in the trial. In December 2015, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal approved the demand of the public prosecutor to transfer the activists to house arrest, where they stayed until they were sentenced.
The charge of ‘plotting against the president’ was dropped by the prosecution on 21 March 2016 and on 28 March 2016, they were sentenced to between two to eight years in prison and fined 50,000 kwanza (around 300 USD) for ‘preparatory acts of rebellion’ and ‘criminal conspiracy’. Da Cruz was sentenced to eight-and- a-half years in prison for ‘leading the criminal association’. Beirão was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for ‘falsifying documents’. The others all received prison sentences ranging from two years to four-and-a-half years. In February, Nito Alves was also given an additional six month jail sentence for contempt of court for complaining about the trial. Another activist who had been attending the trial also called the trial a sham, according to reports, and was sentenced to eight months in prison for contempt of court, where he remains.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) delivered an Opinion on the case of the activists on 31 May 2016 and concluded that the activists were ‘arrested and detained because of the exercise of their freedom of assembly, opinion and expression in violation of Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’. The Working Group called for immediate steps to remedy the situation, namely to release the activists, compensate them accordingly and put an end to the unlawful criminal proceedings against them.
The 17 activists include writer, journalist and university lecturer Domingos da Cruz, author of the manuscript they were reading at the book club; journalist and law student Sedrick de Carvalho, the book’s designer; university lecturer Nuno Alvaro Dala, one of the lecturers of the seminars/discussions. Also arrested were hip-hop artists Henrique Luaty da Silva Beirão, Hitler Jessy Chivonde (also a university student) and José Gomes Hata (also a teacher). The other activists are Manuel Chivonde (known as Nito Alves), Nelson Dibango Mendes dos Santos, Albano Evaristo Bingobingo, Fernando Antonio Tomas, Arante Kivuvu Italiano Lopes, Afonso Matias (Mbanza Hanza), Benedito Jeremias, Inocencio Antonio de Brito, Osvaldo Sergio Correia Caholo, Laurinda Gouveia and Rosa Conde.
While he was still in prison, Nuno Dala released his book ‘The Political Thought of Young Revus: Speech and Action’ (‘O Pensamento Político dos Jovens Revús – Discurso e Acção’) which he had been working on when he was arrested.
See PEN’s earlier action on the case here: http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/angola-pernicious-pursuit-of-the-luanda-book-club/