Angolan police violently cracked down on protest against postponement of local elections

Police face protesters in Luanda. YouTube screengrab taken on October 26, 2020.

On October 24, activists and members of opposition political parties took to the streets of the Angolan capital Luanda in protests against the postponement of local elections, which were met forcefully by police forces.

The protest, which also called for more employment for young people, came in the wake of the September demonstrations against police violence.

Since Angola's independence in 1975, its municipalities have been governed by committees appointed by provincial governors, who in turn are appointed by the country's president. This year would be the first time that Angolans would elect municipal leaders by popular vote.

The vote’s suspension was due to the delay in adopting legislation to regulate it. In an official statement, President João Lourenço, of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, even denied that the elections had been postponed, saying that they had not even been scheduled. The explanation did not convince opposition parties.

The police arrested 103 people for “disobedience” and “rioting” during the demonstration, according to Jornal de Angola. Deutsche Welle Africa reported that six journalists were among those arrested:

Trata-se de um grupo composto por 90 homens e 13 mulheres, acusados de arruaça e desobediência às autoridades. A tentativa de manifestação decorreu em atropelo ao novo Decreto Presidencial sobre a Situação de Calamidade Pública, que restringe os ajuntamentos na via pública a cinco pessoas.

A marcha, frustrada pela Polícia Nacional, contou com centenas de participantes, incentivados por activistas da sociedade civil e por membros da direcção da UNITA.

They are a group made up of 90 men and 13 women accused of rioting and disobedience to the authorities. The attempted demonstration took place in violation of the new Presidential Decree on the State of Public Emergency, which restricts street gatherings to five people.

The march, frustrated by the police, had hundreds of participants, encouraged by civil society activists and members of the [opposition party National Unity for the Total Independence of Angola] UNITA leadership.

The police were on the streets of Angola's capital in the early hours of the day, when the first arrests reportedly occurred.

Demonstrators in front of police in Luanda. Screengrab YouTube taken on October 26, 2020.

In a report published by the Angolan newspaper Jornal de Angola, the Executive Secretary of the Permanent Committee of the Political Commission of the party National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the largest opposition party, said:

A marcha organizada pela sociedade civil é um direito constitucional que deve ser respeitado…não estando o país sob Estado de Sítio ou Emergência, os únicos capazes de restringir o exercício destes direitos, nada justificava o impedimento de uma manifestação com o uso da força desproporcional pelas autoridades, tal como se assistiu.

A march organised by civil society is a constitutional right that must be respected… the country is not under a state of siege or emergency, the only [powers] that may restrict the exercise of these rights; nothing could justify preventing a demonstration with the use of disproportionate force by the authorities, as has been seen.

A member of parliament from UNITA told Agencia Lusa that he had been detained for about an hour, accusing the authorities of “excessive use of force” and of acting illegally.

One of the voices speaking out in favour of the protests was communicator Silvio Nascimento, who was indignant at the police treatment of protesters. Silvio said that the Angolan people “woke up to reality” and that “it is time to fight for the future”.

Similar accounts came from other participants in the protest, according to VOA:

Houve uma repreensão bastante violenta. Não havia razão para o regime usar uma força desproporcional, porque a manifestação era pacífica.

There was a really violent reaction. There was no reason for the regime to use disproportionate force, because the demonstration was peaceful

Speaking to DW África, Luston Mabiala, a young man who was at the demonstration, said that he had been assaulted together with his friends. He says he saw police firing real bullets and tear gas canisters in the area where there were street vendors.

Fomos agredidos fisicamente e de imediato fomos escorraçados da via pública e empurrados nos becos do bairro que eu desconheço. Somente lembro que foi nas imediações do Mercado dos Congoleses.

Resistimos à pressão da polícia e regressamos novamente ao mercado, onde fomos surpreendidos por uma centena de polícias armados das unhas até aos dentes que começaram logo a disparar à queima roupa

We were physically assaulted and quickly dragged out of the public street and pushed into the alleys of a neighbourhood that I don't know about. I only remember that it was near the Congolese Market.

We resisted the police pressure and returned again to the market, where we were surprised by about a hundred policemen armed from to the teeth who immediately started shooting at close range

In the same report from DW África, one of the protest organizers said that he was a victim of police brutality. The activist said that the protest only aimed to peacefully demand the holding of public elections across Angola's 164 municipalities:

Pretendíamos apenas exigir que o Presidente João Lourenço marque a data das eleições autárquicas. Angola está atrasada 45 anos, desde que se tornou independente. Por isso, acho que é necessário que o Presidente esteja preparado para partilhar o poder, para que Angola esteja ao mesmo nível de desenvolvimento com os outros países.

We only intended to demand that President João Lourenço set the date for the local elections. Angola is 45 years behind, since it became independent. So I think it is necessary that the president be prepared to share power, in order for Angola to be at the same level of development as other countries.

The police spokesman in Luanda, Nestor Goubel, said on October 24 that the police force did not have an assessment of operations to allow them to respond to people's complaints. The police official also denied the arrest of journalists who were covering the demonstration.

According to Jornal de Angola, the ruling MPLA party urged its members to use social media to support the government:

Perante dezenas de militantes e dirigentes de distintas estruturas e organizações internas do partido, Daniel Neto notou que a desvalorização dos esforços do Governo, notória nas publicações feitas por alguns jovens, confirma a influência nociva das mensagens de formações políticas da oposição sobre os investimentos, projectos e perspectivas para o desenvolvimento da vida das populações.

Devemos contrapor a deturpação das mentes por discursos preparados para confundir os lúcidos e arrastar os menos informados.

In front of dozens of activists and leaders of different internal party groups and organizations, Daniel Neto remarked that the undervaluation of the government's efforts, common in the comments of some young people, shows the harmful influence of messages from opposition political groups about investments, projects and prospects for the development of people's lives.

We must combat the distortion of minds by discourses designed to confuse the lucid and draw in the less informed.

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