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Human Rights Watch calls on authorities to release unfairly convicted demonstrators

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Johannesburg, September 14, 2011 - The Angolan authorities should immediately drop politically motivated charges against 18 people who were convicted after unfair trials for their participation in an anti-government demonstration in Luanda, Human Rights Watch said today.

A second trial against another group of demonstrators should be halted for failing to meet fair trial standards and those held on trumped up charges should be released, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into use of unlawful force by police at political demonstrations and intimidation and harassment of defense witnesses.

"Unfair trials of demonstrators are not the answer to the legitimate reform demands of citizens," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities should respect the right to peacefully demonstrate and impartially investigate violence against demonstrators."

On September 3, 2011, police agents and groups of unidentified men apparently allied to the authorities violently dispersed an anti-government rally involving several hundred protesters in Luanda. The police said four police officers and three others had been injured and blamed demonstrators for the violence. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch many more demonstrators were injured.

There are credible accounts that plainclothes security agents infiltrated the demonstration and committed violence. Human Rights Watch previously documented the disproportionate use of force by the police against demonstrators and attacks on demonstrators and journalists by groups of unidentified men during the demonstration.

A police court in Luanda sentenced five organizers of the September 3 demonstration to three months in prison and fines and damages totalling US$1400 for the crimes of disobedience, resistance, and "corporal offenses." The claimants for damages were four police officers who alleged being injured by demonstrators. The court also sentenced 13 other demonstrators to 45 days in prison for the same crimes, suspending the sentence for two years for two minors. Three of the accused protesters were acquitted for lack of evidence. The defendants have appealed to the Supreme Court. The attorney general refused a request to release the defendants pending the Supreme Court's ruling.

Another trial will begin on September 14 against 27 alleged demonstrators who were arrested during rallies calling for the release of the September 3 protesters.

Police are holding these demonstrators in a high-security prison 60 kilometers from Luanda, and have denied them access to lawyers and family members. Two opposition parties, UNITA and Bloco Democrático, claimed that their representatives were denied access to party members among the detainees at the prison.

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Click here to read the full press release

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