(Johannesburg) – Angolan Police used live ammunition, tear gas and dogs to disperse a peaceful anti-government protest, killing a protester, in the capital, Luanda, on November 11, 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. Police severely beat well-known activists Nito Alves and Laurinda Goveia, both of whom are in critical condition, and arbitrarily arrested a third activist, Luaty Beirao.
Pictures posted on social media shows people running through the streets of Luanda, looking for places to hide as police indiscriminately fire live ammunition and tear gas at them. Officers also beat protesters with batons, threw them into police vans, and took them to unknown locations, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.
“Police shooting at peaceful protesters is both scandalous and criminal,” said Zenaida Machado, senior researcher on Africa at Human Rights Watch. “The government should thoroughly investigate the police use of unnecessary lethal force and hold those responsible to account. “
In the early hours of 11 November, Angola’s Independence Day, thousands of heavily armed police officers and plainclothes officers were deployed to the streets of Luanda ahead of an anti-government protest called by civil society groups for demand jobs and local elections in 2021.
The police set up roadblocks and closed the main roads to the population of Cacuaco, the districts of Benfica and Viana, local media reported. A reporter told Human Rights Watch that there was a “massive presence” of police with dogs near the Santa Ana cemetery, a meeting point chosen by the protest organizers. Police dispersed protesters who were trying to assemble at the entrance to the cemetery with tear gas and beat them with batons, a video on social networks showed.
Another video on social media showed the body of an unidentified man on the floor with blood flowing from his head. Two activists said that around 11 a.m., police fired live ammunition to disperse protesters who had gathered near the Congolese market, and shot the man. A few hours later, a police spokesperson confirmed to reporters that a man was killed shot in the head, but refused to confirm whether the police were responsible.
Activists Goveia and Alves were seriously injured during the crackdown. Goveia passed out after inhaling tear gas. A witness said police officers apparently in plain clothes, wearing bulletproof vests and pistols, severely beat Alves. The two activists were taken to Prenda Hospital in Luanda in critical condition.
Several Luanda residents said police arrested, searched and questioned anyone trying to get to central Luanda. “Those who [the police thought] had no serious reason to be in the city center were fired or arrested, ”said one of them.
Living Facebook broadcast shared by Beirao showed it with a group of protesters marching through the streets on the way to the protest, then stopped and searched by more than 20 police officers. A policeman forcibly interrupted the live video just minutes after officers found a banner Beirao was carrying in his bag with the handwritten words “Stop, kill, obey”. A witness said police immediately arrested Beirao and two other activists and took them to an unidentified location. The authorities should quickly provide information on their fate.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms “[p]prohibit the use of firearms and ammunition that cause undue injury or pose undue risk. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, said in a general comment that “[f]Firearms are not an appropriate tool for policing gatherings and should never be used simply to disperse a gathering.… [A]Any use of firearms by law enforcement officials in the context of assemblies should be limited to targeted individuals in circumstances where it is strictly necessary to face an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
President João Lourenço’s reign hailed as a new era in the promotion and respect of human rights in Angola, with notable improvements in freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But the situation changed dramatically in October, when the president, as part of the measures to control the spread of Covid-19, issued a decree banning all public gatherings more than five people, just ahead of a planned demonstration called by activists and the main opposition party, Unita.
Security forces brutally cracked down on the October 24 protest – against corruption, massive unemployment, rising costs of living and loss of political freedoms. Authorities arrested more than 100 people, including journalists, provoking condemnation by rights groups. President Lourenço expressed his public regret for the arrests of journalists but did not announce any action against the police officers implicated in the excessive use of force.
“The Angolan government should not use the Covid-19 measures as an excuse for authoritarian police and a violent crackdown on peaceful protests,” Machado said. “The government should take concrete action against those who abuse peaceful protesters. “