LONDON - Authorities in Angola must immediately and unconditionally release Tanaice Neutro for protesting against high levels of poverty, corruption and repression, and guarantee the right to peaceful protest across the country, Amnesty International said today as it marked seven months since the activist was arbitrarily detained. The organization also announced that it was launching its #ProtectTheProtest campaign in Angola to bring to light the efforts of the government to repress the right to protest in the country.
“Over the last few years, Angolan authorities have demonstrated a ruthless determination to crush dissent and unduly limit the people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Vongai Chikwanda, Amnesty International’s Interim Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“The suppression of the right to protest has sent a chilling message to activists. Some have been put behind bars, while others have been killed solely for peacefully exercising their right to protest.”
The past three years has seen a marked increase in repressive measures against those who wish to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the country, including the unlawful killing and arbitrary arrest of protesters.
Tanaice Neutro is a popular artist who often uses kuduro, a type of Angolan music, to express himself about social issues in the country. He was arrested on 13 January 2022 in connection with a video he is understood to have posted in which he called the president a ‘clown’ and the Angolan authorities ‘ignorant’. He was tried in October 2022 and handed a suspended sentence of 15 months for causing outrage against state symbols. However, the judge ordered his immediate release on health grounds.
It has been seven months since the ruling, but Tanaice Neutro remains in prison where he is in severe physical and mental pain. He is experiencing severe headaches and fever and urgently requires surgery for a condition that prevents him from receiving proper nutrition. Despite his deteriorating condition, he has been denied necessary medical treatment by the prison authorities.
There are also grave concerns for his mental health and the denial of access to adequate medical care by the authorities may amount to torture or other ill-treatment.
Peaceful protesters killed
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Angolan security forces in various provinces used disproportionate force to deal with infringements of public health measures and peaceful demonstrations. Amnesty International and OMUNGA, an Angolan human rights organization, documented several peaceful protests that were met with police violence.
The organizations reported several killings committed by the Angolan security forces. For example, in January 2021, police shot and killed dozens of activists who were peacefully protesting the high cost of living in the mining town of Cafunfo in Lunda Norte province. Security forces also chased down protestors in surrounding neighbourhoods and forests. While the exact numbers of those killed and injured remains unknown, bodies were found dumped in the nearby Cuango River.
Activist Secane Lemos was shot by the police during a demonstration against police violence in February 2021 in Luanda. He was shot in the hip, where the bullet remains lodged to this day. He now relies on crutches to walk.
On 27 August 2022, 12 people were rounded up, arrested and tortured by 50 agents of the Angolan National Police and Criminal Investigation Service agents in Benguela after they attempted to demonstrate against alleged irregularities in the general elections held on 24 August. They were detained for three days and later released, even though four of them were not part of the protest.
Between March and November 2020, Amnesty International and OMUNGA documented 11 killings by the Angolan security forces. The victims were between the ages of 14 and 35. The youngest victim was 14-year-old Mário Palma Romeu, also known as Marito. Justice is yet to be delivered for their killing. The police officer who allegedly killed Marito has been in detention since 2020 and was ordered to pay US$3000 to the victim’s family but the money has yet to be paid.
“Angolan authorities must stop criminalizing the right to peaceful protest. Peaceful assembly is not a crime. Authorities should instead guarantee the right to protest if they are committed to openness,” said Vongai Chikwanda.
The right to protest is under unprecedented and growing threat across all regions of the world. Amnesty Internationalis running a global campaign to confront states’ widening and intensifying efforts to erode this fundamental human right. Angolan law enforcement officials regularly use excessive force to break up peaceful protests to supress dissent.