Angola is an oil rich country on the Southwestern coast of Africa. It’s made untold billions since its civil war ended in 2003, pumping oil from the Cabinda province, located at the northern tip of the country and bordering the Republic of the Congo. Cabinda is also known for a separatist movement that has at times engaged in violence. The recent slump in oil prices has had serious repercussions across Angola. Citizens are suffering and the government is increasingly intolerant of dissent.
It is in that atmosphere that Jose Marcos Mavungo was arrested one year ago today. He was leaving morning mass at his local church in Cabinda when he was detained. His alleged crime? Organizing a peaceful demonstration on bad governance and human rights abuses in Cabinda. He is currently serving a six year prison sentence following his conviction in September 2015, of the crime of rebellion. During his trial, the state alleged that Mavungo had plotted to overthrow the government. The supposed evidence against him, fliers and explosives said to have been found by the state secret service, were never tied to Mavungo during the course of the trial through forensic or witness testimony.
Both Mavungo’s arrest and trial were fraught with procedural irregularities. He was arrested without a warrant. As for his trial, in an ingenious manner the trial court which was supposedly open to the public, was filled to capacity by state security forces leaving no room for the ordinary public. His attorneys were denied access to the intelligence file largely used as evidence against him. Mavungo’s trial was clearly a mockery of justice, one that failed to provide him with adequate guarantees of transparency and due legal process.
Unfortunately, Mavungo’s trial and the violation of fair trial guarantees is not an isolated case in Angola. In May 2015, journalist and human rights defender Rafael Marques de Morais was convicted for his efforts to hold army generals and mining corporations to account for corruption and human rights abuses in the diamond industry. His trial was marred with similar fair trial irregularities including a closed trial, failure to be notified in advance of the charges, the denial of an opportunity to cross examine witnesses and a conviction despite the state’s failure to meet the requisite burden of proof.
Currently the ongoing trial of the #Angola15 activists accused of plotting a coup against the government for participating in a meeting that discussed peaceful ways of protest has similarly been tainted by serious fair trial violations. What is clearly emerging from the trials in Angola, especially of individuals critical of the government, is a disturbing resemblance to the show trials of Stalin’s USSR, where the trials of those accused of plotting against him had little doubt of a guilty verdict. There can be no proper administration of justice and preservation of the rule of law where there is no respect for due process guarantees and the right to a fair trial.
Contributed by Mooya Nyaundi, interim Chair, Southern Africa Coordination Group