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Angolan Activist's Health in Danger After Nearly Three Weeks of Hunger Strike in Prison

The 15 activists arrested in Angola. Photo from Amnesty International.

The 15 activists arrested in Angola. Photo from Amnesty International

Luaty Beirao, a musician and activist who was arrested in June 2015 after Angolan authorities accused him and 14 others of allegedly plotting a coup-de-etat, has been on hunger strike in prison for 19 days now.

The 33-year-old is reportedly in “critical condition.” Beirao started the hunger strike, his second, alongside several other detainees to demand their release from the maximum security prison, where some of the activists are held in solitary confinement and not allowed to see their families or lawyers, according to human rights group Amnesty International. Those arrested say they weren't planning a coup, but had merely gathered to discuss peaceful means of protesting the current government's repressive policies.

Beirao has not eaten or drank anything for nearly three weeks now. According to a report from a family member, his organs are slowly shutting down and he risks death if he continues on as he is.

Thrown in prison after reading a book

The 15 activists were arrested after having taken part in several group book readings and discussions; one of the books was “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation” by Gene Sharp, which outlines nonviolent strategies of resistance to repressive regimes. According to pro-democracy website Maka Angola, the group reportedly wanted to apply what they learned to peacefully demonstrate against the rule of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in the country's seat of power since 1979.

Luaty Beirao

Luaty Beirao. Photo: Private(used with permission)

Authorities maintained, however, that the activists were caught red-handed planning acts that went against public order and state security. Another activist was arrested at a later time in the investigation, making this process known as the 15+1. Two others were eventually caught up in the case too.

Ninety days have come and gone since their arrests in late June 2015, making their detention illegal for having surpassed the maximum time that authorities can hold a suspect during an investigation. In addition to Beirao, who holds both Portuguese and Angolan citizenship, those charged are:

Since their arrests, many organizations have spoken out. Peaceful protests demanding their release were held in the capital city of Luanda and in some European capitals, but in Luanda the protests were violently repressed by police.

Angola's hostility toward freedom of expression

Angola's human rights record leaves much to be desired. The government has brutally beat back protests and thrown criminal charges at peaceful dissidents as a way of silencing those who step out of line. President Dos Santos has also been accused of corruption on many occasions for his own profit, while the majority of Angolans live on a few dollars a day.

On September 10, 2015, the European Union released a joint statement with various other local and international organizations such as Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders and Index on Censorship calling for Angola to release all political prisoners and human rights defenders as well as to respect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

European Parliament member Ana Gomes, from Portugal's socialist party, visited Angola in July 2015, and in her visit report she condemned Angolan authorities for its violations of freedom of expression and human rights. Gomes also criticized Portuguese media silence on the matter due to Angolan investors’ purchase of major news outlets in Portugal.

Despite failing health, Luaty Beirao won't stop hunger strike

Political debate site Central Angola posted on Facebook reports of Beirao’s last known condition:

Situação de Luaty Beirão é caótica.
Luaty foi hoje visitado pela mãe, que fez parte de um grupo de 10 pessoas que preocupados com a situação, foram visita-lo, e foi a única pessoa permitida a vê-lo.
Segundo a mãe do ativista, Luaty está seriamente debilitado, não consegue nem pelo menos engolir líquidos. Teme-se que as próximas horas sejam decisivas para a vida do ativista. Na conversa com a mãe, Luaty pede a sociedade que faça alguma coisa, e frisou que não vai abdicar da greve de fome pois está convicto de que não atentou contra a vida de Eduardo dos Santos, o presidente de Angola a quase 40 anos.

Luaty Beirao's condition is chaotic. Luaty's mum was the only one from a group of 10 to see him. According to her, Luaty is seriously weak, he can't consume any food or liquids. There are fears that the next hours will be decisive for this activist's life. Talking to his mum, Luaty asks society to help him and claims he won't stop his hunger strike because he 100% never made an attempt on the life of Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola for almost 40 years.

On social media, supporters organized a vigil in Luanda to show their solidarity with him on October 8:


Vigil for Luaty Beirao. The signs read, “Luaty, hang in there. You're a true warrior”; “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”; and “God has not abandoned you, brother, he has plans for you.” Photo: Central Angola(used with permition)

The platform Liberdade aos Presos Políticos em Angola (Freedom for Political Prisoners in Angola) posted a video of the gathering on Facebook with the following description:

Vigília pelo Luaty Beirão a acontecer agora na Sagrada Família.

Pátria Unida, Liberdade,
Um só povo, uma só Nação !

Vigil for Luaty Beirao taking place at the Sagrada Família church.
United Nation, Liberty,
One people, one Nation!

#FreedomNow #SilenceKills #WeWantLuatyAlive

In the clip, attendees hold up candles towards the night sky and sing the Angola national anthem:

Com as forças progressistas do mundo, orgulhosos lutaremos pela paz. Com as forças progressistas do mundo, agora avante revolução pelo poder popular. Pátria Unida, liberdade. Um só povo, uma só Nação!

With all the progressive forces of the world, proudly we will fight for peace. With all the progressive forces of the world, lets move forward by the power of people's revolution. Country united, freedom. One people, one nation!

Amnesty International has launched an urgent petition in Portuguese for Beirao's and all other political prisoners’ release in Angola. Those interested in signing can find the document here.

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