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War on separatists used as cover to imprison rights defenders and harass journalists

The Angolan government is targeting human rights defenders with intimidation, harassment and detention, says Human Rights Watch. The lethal attack on Togolese football players by Angolan separatist rebels in January was also used as an excuse to round up critics of the government. At least eight activists have been arrested since the attack and journalists have been threatened.

Gunmen opened fire on Togo's national football team, which came to the country to compete in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, in Angola's oil-rich enclave of Cabinda on 8 January. Two people were killed, including a Togolese journalist, and nine others were injured. Angolan authorities are now citing "state security crimes" as the reason for the arrests of human rights defenders.

Police arrested the first rights activist early morning on 8 January, before the Togolese footballers were attacked later in the day. Three individuals arrested in mid-January, Belchior Lanso Tati, Francisco Luemba and Raul Tati, are all prominent Cabindan intellectuals and human rights defenders who are outspoken critics of the government.

The three rights defenders were once part of a civic association that issued several human rights reports on Cabinda and facilitated peace negotiations between the separatist guerrillas and the government.

Meanwhile, a journalist received a warning from Angolan security officials on 20 January, saying his life was at risk because the authorities saw him as a "dangerous person" who has "damaged Angola's image" by reporting on politically sensitive issues. And another journalist, former Voice of America correspondent in Cabinda, Fernando Lelo, said individuals purporting to be Angolan intelligence officials warned him he may soon be charged for alleged arms sales to rebels. Lelo had already spent almost two years in prison for "security crimes," and was originally sentenced to 12 years before his conviction was quashed in 2009 by a military court.

In December 2009, Angolan authorities began to arbitrarily arrest and intimidate independent journalists in the lead up to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations. Journalists who work for state-run media frequently practise self-censorship.

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