17 youth activists, including a well-known rapper, Luaty Beirao were on Monday sentenced in a court in Angola for rebellion against President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
The jail term for the activists ranges between two to eight years with the rapper sentenced to serve five and a half years for "rebellion against the president of the republic, criminal association and falsifying documents".
Beirao and his club members were arrested in late June after taking part in a book club discussion of Gene Sharp’s 1993 book on nonviolent resistance, ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation’.
Last year, the rapper went on hunger strike for over a month to protest his detention. Beirao refused food for 36 days, one day for every year President dos Santos has been in power, he explained.
The human rights activists in Angola have termed the verdict given by a court in Luanda as ‘outrageous’.
A renowned Angolan journalist Rafael Marques told DW that the trial was obviously politically motivated: "It seems that the Angolan regime urgently needs to find an enemy to distract citizens from society's main problems." This he said referring to the economic crisis in the oil-dependent Angola which has been hit hard by the steep decline in commodity prices on global markets.
According to Teresa Pina of the Portugal chapter of Amnesty International, repression is growing in Angola. Pina told DW that the case of the 17 is just another instance of "a long history of punishing dissent in Angola, and it has worsened in recent months."
Second longest serving president
President dos Santos has been ruling the country since 1979 when he took over from the Portuguese. He is Africa’s second longest-serving leader after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang.
Although Angola has been recording great economic growth since 2002, citizens are against the repressive nature of the government and the unending corruption.
The activists have continued to insist that they are peaceful campaigners for the departure of Dos Santos. Last month, the head of state announced that he would leave active politics in 2018 after the country’s next election in 2017. The announcement was, however, received with skepticism following two similar pledges in the past. His current term terminates at the end of next year.
According to Michel Francisco, a lawyer representing 10 of the accused, he would seek appeal.
“Justice has not been done in a transparent way because things have been politicized and the judge only obeyed higher orders coming from the president of the republic,” he told reporters.
Rights groups say activists in Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, are being increasingly targeted by dos Santos’ government.
Amnesty International said the activists should not have been arrested in the first place and described their detention as a “travesty of justice”.
Image credit: Club of Mozambique via Twitter