When governments put people in prison for reading

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When governments put people in prison for reading

By Marc Herzog

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Activists in court, including Luaty Beirão (middle, back). (by By Coque Mukuta/Voice of America [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

It is not often that people are arrested, accused of planning a coup and put on trial just because they read books and discuss them in public.

This is like something from a Kafka book. But this is happening to 15 political and human rights activists in Angola. They were arrested on 20 June 2015 in a bookstore in the capital, Luanda, because they organized a public discussion about two books. The books, one of them Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, were about peaceful challenges to controlling governments. The activists were fighting for social justice against the government and Angola’s rich people.

The government says the group wanted to kill President Eduardo Dos Santos. He has been in power for more than 36 years. They could go to prison for 12 years. The activists have been in different prisons around the country, with no trial, for more than three months, and suffered torture. People held peaceful protests, but the police stopped these. Many other people are protesting eg. the famous rapper Luaty Beirão (Ikonoklasta). He went on hunger strike for 36 days, one day for each year that Dos Santos has been President.

There is a lot of corruption in Angola. A small group of rich people get a lot of money, and about 70 per cent of the population live on $2 a day. There is often no respect for human rights and freedom. Amnesty International and the UN special rapporteur on defenders of human rights, Michel Forst, said the activists should be freed. Many people around the world know about the case. People have protested in Brazil, Portugal and Britain, and there is an international campaign to set the activists free: Liberdade Já (Freedom Now).

The activists want more equality in Angola. Most of the country is very poor, but Angola has enough resources for everyone to live well. Angola was destroyed by three decades of civil war (1975-2002). The US and South Africa supported groups on one side, against the Soviet Union and Cuba, supporting different groups on the other side. More than 500,000 people were killed and the country still has many landmines and bombs that could explode.

But after the civil war, Angola has had one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. This is because it has many natural resources: petrol, diamonds and other precious minerals. It is the second-biggest exporter of oil in Africa. The international media often show this great economic growth, but they don’t say that nearly all the money goes to a very small group of people. The media doesn’t say that Luanda is now the most expensive capital in the world to live in; Angola has the world’s highest child mortality rate; and it has one of the highest levels of death in childbirth. Angola’s main trading partner is China. So China is now a role model for human rights in Angola.

Dos Santos and his government keep their power and control with the money from Angola’s natural resources and mining. Levels of corruption and social inequality are very high. So, in recent years, there have been several opposition campaigns. But people who are brave enough to speak against the government often get killed, put in prison, tortured, or simply disappear.

This arrest and trial of the activists has shown this to the world. And the world is demanding their immediate release. So maybe the government made a big mistake. The trial could lead to more opposition in Angola, especially now that the government has cut money and services even more because world oil prices have gone down since 2014. Four of the group, including Luaty Beirão, started a new hunger strike, on 10 December to protest against the government’s control of the trial.

Everyone who supports social justice, human rights and democracy must support these 17 people. They are selfless heroes, fighting against this controlling, corrupt government, and we must all support them and get them released immediately.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2015/12/16/angola-human-rights-trial/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).