"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
"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
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
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. – afrol News