On Friday morning, Angolan human rights defender Marcos Mavungo was released from prison after the country’s Supreme Court overturned his conviction a day earlier. He is now enjoying the company of his wife, Adolfina Mavungo, and children, who met him by the prison gates.
In a phone conversation, Mavungo told Human Rights Watch he was happy to be back home with his family. But he would soon gear up to continue his work, because “a luta continua,” the fight goes on.
The authorities arrested Mavungo without a warrant in March 2015, after a church service, in connection with a planned peaceful demonstration on corruption, human rights abuses, and poor governance in oil-rich Cabinda province. The demonstration never took place. Two months later, he was charged with rebellion.
He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison in September 2015.The court found him guilty of planning a violent protest with a group of men said to have been found with explosives. But in court, state prosecutors did not present any evidence of Mavungo’s relationship with such a group or his alleged criminal activity.
This Thursday, the Supreme Court decided “there was no concrete evidence” to back the accusations against Mavungo. It is a bittersweet moment for Mavungo and his family, who celebrate his freedom while remembering the needless suffering his imprisonment caused.
The case is neither isolated nor uncommon in a country where the government subjects dissidents and human rights defenders to harassment, intimidation, and trumped-up criminal charges.
In March 2016, a court in Luanda, the capital, found 17 activists guilty of preparing a rebellion against the government, after they were arrested following book club meetings where peaceful protest and democracy were discussed.
Their lawyers have appealed the conviction, but the activists continue to languish in prison.
The Supreme Court’s surprising decision to free Mavungo could be a sign that the Angolan authorities are beginning to understand the urgent need to restore public trust in state institutions. They should demonstrate their commitment to respect human rights by releasing all other wrongfully detained human rights defenders and ending the use of trumped-up criminal charges to harass and intimidate activists.