We, the undersigned organisations, note with concern the continued arbitrary detention of Maurício Gimbi, president of the Union for the Independence of Cabinda (UIC), João Mampuela, vice president of UIC, and André Bonzela, director of UIC president’s office in Cabinda, Angola. The trio were arrested in June 2020, days after the display of UIC leaflets in the streets of the city of Cabinda. The leaflets displayed the following messages: “For the end of the right to bear arms” and “Cabinda is not Angola”. Despite the peaceful content of the leaflets, they were arrested, detained and charged with rebellion (article 21 of 23/10 Law), outrage against the state (article 25 of 23/10 Law) and criminal association (article 8 of 3/14 Law). The arrest and prosecution of these activists solely for exercising their rights is a violation of Angola’s Constitution and its regional and international obligations.
On 28 June 2020, at least five plain clothed police officers arbitrarily arrested Gimbi and Bonzela at a taxi stop in the city of Cabinda. According to their lawyers, the police officers physically assaulted the pair during the arrest. The next day, on 29 June 2020, at least eight police officers arrested Mampuela at around 5:00 AM in his home. The officers, who had a warrant to search Mampuela’s home, arrested him after they found UIC leaflets. While the Cabinda Court granted bail to Bonzela set at 300.000 Kwanzas (US$ 350) pending trial, he remains detained due to failure to pay the bail amount. The Cabinda Court rejected the provisional release request for Gimbi and Mampuela on grounds of past criminal records arising from their arrest in January 2019, where they were charged with “criminal association” (article 8 of 3/14 Law), “rebellion” (article 21 of 23/10 Law), “insult (ultraje) of the State” (article 25 of 23/10 Law) and “public disturbance and resistance” (articles 185 and 186 of the Penal Code). These charges similarly involved their participation in the planning of a peaceful demonstration at the time.
The continued detention of the trio since June 2020 imperils their right to a fair trial, particularly the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (art. 9 and 14), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (art. 6 and 7), and the Constitution of the Republic of Angola (art. 67(2)). Pre-trial detention is generally against the dictates of regional and international human rights law which seeks to protect the right to liberty and the rights of those awaiting trial. The ICCPR specifically provides that “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody”. This is reinforced by the Article 67 (2) of the Constitution of Angola which states that “All citizens shall be presumed innocent until their sentence has become res judicata”.
Since their arrest, the trio have been detained at Cabinda Province Civil Prison under concerningly inhumane conditions. According to their lawyers, they have been deprived of drinking water and adequate food. Their prison cell is overcrowded, forcing some prisoners to sleep on the floor and in the prison’s hallway. Furthermore, the prison authorities have reportedly not implemented any COVID-19 prevention measures at the prison. Prisons by their nature make it difficult to maintain social distancing and as such, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased risk to detainees, the World Health Organisation has recommended the decongestion of prisons and urged States to refrain from custodial sentences for low level offences that do not involve the infliction or threat of infliction of serious bodily injury, sexual assault, or a known likelihood of physical harm. We are therefore deeply concerned that the continued detention of the trio whose health is deteriorating as a result of inadequate nutrition, coupled with the overcrowded and unsanitary prison conditions places them, prison officials and the general prison population at Cabinda Province Civil Prison, at a great risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
President João Lourenço’s rule has been hailed as a new era in the promotion and respect of human rights in Angola. While we note many improvements in some parts of the country, the situation in Cabinda remains tenuous and increasingly concerning, with many human rights activists being arrested for exercising their fundamental rights. In this regard, President Lorenco has continued in the footsteps of his predecessor, President José Eduardo dos Santos, by responding to the situation in Cabinda with repression. Arresting individuals such as Gimbi, Mampuela and Bonzela for merely advocating for the rights of the Cabinda people only exacerbates discontent amongst the citizens. We urge the Government of Angola to engage the people of Cabinda and address their legitimate concerns, including years of underdevelopment in the region despite it being the repository of 60% of Angola’s rich oil resources.
In light of the above, we call upon the Government of Angola to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Maurício Gimbi, André Bonzela and Joao Mampuela;
- While Maurício Gimbi, André Bonzela and Joao Mampuela remain in detention, ensure that they and other prisoners held at Cabinda Province Civil Prison have access to clean drinking water, adequate food and decent sleeping conditions in accordance with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Robben Island Guidelines for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa;
- Urgently implement appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prison, in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended COVID-19 prevention measures including sufficient physical hygiene and sanitation facilities and the decongestion of Cabinda Province Civil Prison to ensure adequate social distancing;
- Uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Cabinda, and ensure residents of Cabinda can peacefully exercise these rights without fear of reprisals; and
- Genuinely engage with the people of Cabinda in order to hear and address their concerns, in particular the lack of development in the region and their right to benefit from the region’s resources.
Advancing Rights in Southern Africa
Human Rights Watch