Angola: Conviction of José Marcos Mavungo a blatant violation of freedom of expression
The conviction and six-year prison sentence imposed on human rights activist José Marcos Mavungo is a travesty of justice and a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Angola, said six human rights organizations today.
The organizations, the South African Litigation Centre (SALC), Lawyers for Human Rights, Front Line Defenders, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Amnesty International are calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
“The conviction of José Marcos Mavungo is politically motivated and is the latest example of suppression of freedom of expression and blatant disregard for human rights in the country,” said Muluka Miti-Drummond, Regional Advocacy Director at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
“It comes days after the European Parliament’s resolution on Angola calling on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, including José Marcos Mavungo,and to drop all charges against them.”
José Marcos Mavungo’s conviction yesterday appears to be based on his involvement in organizing a peaceful demonstration and his alleged associationwith a group of unknown men said to have been found with explosives and flyers a day before the demonstration. No evidence of José Marcos Mavungo’s relationship with these men or of his involvement in the production of the flyers was presented during the trial.
According to Francisco Luemba, José Marcos Mavungo’s lawyer, the judge stated that he was guilty because the pamphlets “only appeared in Cabinda at a time when José Marcos Mavungo was organizing to assemble the masses to rebel against the authorities”.
“It is hard to imagine how the court could have found any reasonable legal basis for arriving at a verdict of guilty given that no evidence was provided linking him to the publication of the pamphlets,” said Mary Lawlor, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.
“Furthermore, there was a complete lack of any evidence linking him to the explosives nor were the men with the explosives and with whom José Marcos Mavungo is accused of associating brought to trial.”
José Marcos Mavungo was arrested on 14 March 2015 and summarily tried on sedition charges on 19 March 2015. The court found no evidence for the charge of sedition against him and ordered further investigations. On 27 May 2015, he was formally charged with ‘rebellion’, but was only officially informed of his indictment on 22 June. His trial started on 25 August and he was convicted on 14 September. He was kept in pre-trial detention from the time of his arrest.
“José Marcos Mavungo’s conviction is particularly concerning in the light of the detention of 16 other individuals under similar charges in the country,” said Jacob van Garderen, National Director of Lawyers for Human Rights – South Africa.
“It intensifies our concerns that these individuals are unlikely to receive a fair trial.”
On 20 June, police in Luanda arrested 13 people meeting to exchange opinions on the political situation. Two others were arrested following the meeting. All were accused of an attempted coup and denied bail. They remain in pre-trial detention, but have not yet been indicted. Another individual, Zenóbio Zumba, a military intelligence official, was reportedly arrested on 30 June under the same accusation as the other 15 and also remains in pre-trial detention.
“The Angolan government is obligated under human rights treaties to which it is a state party to respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and assembly, which specifically protect the freedom to meet jointly to freely exchange opinions and peacefully demonstrate for change in areas of discontent,” said Arnold Tsunga, Africa Director of the ICJ.
“These rights are also protected by Angola’s Constitution, which further requires that the authorities ensure democratic participation of citizens and civil society in the resolution of national problems.”
“Despite committing to take measures to respect, protect and promote the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly during its Universal Periodic Review last year, Angolan authorities continue to flagrantly suppress these rights,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“Angola can only begin to demonstrate that these commitments were meaningful by unconditionally releasing José Marcos Mavungo, as well as other human rights defenders and political opponents.”
Since the beginning of the year there has been an increase in the use of state security laws in a manner apparently aimed at supressing the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Angola.
In March, on the same day as José Marcos Mavungo’s arrest, security forces arrested Arão Bula Tempo, a human rights lawyer and the president of the Cabinda provincial Council of the Angolan Bar Association and his clientManuel Biongo. They were accused of the crime of collaborating with foreigners to constrain the Angolan state, based on an allegation that they invited journalists from the Republic of Congo to cover the demonstration organised by José Marcos Mavungo. Both deny the accusation. They were released on 13 May 2015 pending trial, but are not allowed to leave Cabinda without permission.