What you need to know about #free15Angolans

For one, their original crime: Gathering as a book club and reading the books 'From Dictatorship to Democracy' and 'Tools to Destroy a Dictator and Avoid a New Dictatorship.'

7 of the Angolan 15

In Luanda police arrested thirteen activists when they gathered for a book club on  June 20, 2015. On June 22 another two were taken. In every case, police confiscated their computers and telephones and those of family members. All such acts were undertaken without search warrants. Two of the prisoners, well-known protestors Luaty Beirão and Nito Alves (only 18 years old), are on hunger strikes.

José Maria de Sousa, Angolan Prosecutor General, accuses those arrested of threatening state security. The Angolan President, José Eduardo dos Santos, raised historical spectres by comparing them to the so-called coup plotters of 27 de Maio . What Angolans call the 27 de Maio  resulted in the purge and massacre of thousands. (If you’re interested, read Lara Pawson’s In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre.)

These fifteen activists have been involved in protests against President dos Santos’ long tenure as president since 2011. Notably, they’ve had their protests broken up before they’ve begun and they’ve been beaten in the streets and tortured in prison. All are young, a few are rappers, many are students or graduates of universities. They are all male. This excellent post (in Portuguese) by human rights activist Rafael Marques tells you about each of them.

Here’s what you need to know:

1 – There are more than fifteen. While fifteen were arrested between June 20-22, other political prisoners, less well known because they are struggling outside of Luanda, languish in prison and face harassment: Marcos Mavungo has been held since March without a warrant in Cabinda, accused with crimes against state security. Arão Bula Tempo, President of the Cabinda Lawyers Council, arrested with Mavungo and later released, was prohibited from traveling from Cabinda to Benguela June 26 to speak on Human Rights. On June 30, Zenobio Zumba, who works in the Angolan Armed Forces Office of Information and Analysis, was arrested. His crime?: propinquity. He was in an International Relations program at university with one of the 15 political prisoners (Osvaldo Caholo). Zumba refuses to be registered with the police until they present him with an imprisonment order. It seems he and his wife, a police officer, have been politicized by this process. And then there is the case of Mário Faustino, seemingly forgotten.

2 – These arrests serve as a distraction from the April massacre at Mount Sumi in Huambo (and the drop in oil prices and new Chinese loans.) Read Claudio Silva’s powerful post on Mount Sumi.

3 – The arrests, like the massacre, have provoked unprecedented, explicit public condemnation from a widespread array of Angolans. If you read Portuguese there are a number of pieces expressing outrage, a variety of analysis, and vision in response. More here and here. Some great drawings by Sergio Piçarra that make sense even if you don’t read Portuguese (scroll backwards through the arrows). And this chilling, hopeful, and poetic post by Ana Paula Tavares: “Last night I traveled to the end of the night and I saw new things that allow me to believe that ‘the door of the future is not shut’ and that in the silence of stone tame waters carve new paths and pass.”

4 – While these young activists are all men, they are surrounded by women. Several articles note mothers, wives, sisters who have been politicized or who share their vision. Many of the prisoners are fathers. They fight for a better future for all Angolans. And let’s not forget Laurinda Gouveia, a 26 year old female student and grilled chicken vendor, beaten by the police in broad daylight in November 2014 at a small protest.

5 – They advocate peaceful change. On the day they gathered they were reading Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy: a Conceptual Framework for Liberation and Angolan journalist (among the arrested) Domingos da Cruz’s Tools to Destroy a Dictator and Avoid a New Dictatorship. We might need to think a post-Fanonian politics. Would that he were here to help us think the impasse because his analysis of the national bourgeoisie reads the riot act on the Angolan elite.

6 – This is not the first time President dos Santos has accused someone of plotting a coup. As Rafael Marques notes, he neutralized General Fernando Miala in 2009 with a 4-year prison sentence for insubordination after being accused of a coup attempt in 2006. And his elite is full of generals who slop at the trough of state largesse precisely to keep them fat, happy, and docile.

7 – Some arrested (Zenobio Zumba – detained July 7) and now dead (Alves Kamulingue and Isaís Cassule) are veterans of the Presidential Guard or the Military Information Unit. When former presidential guards and military information officers start to advocate for their rights, look out.

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