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4 June 2015

Human rights defenders face increased harassment and intimation

Over the last month, Front Line Defenders has received worrying reports suggesting an increased level of harassment and surveillance against human rights defenders in Angola.

On 28 May 2015, journalist and human rights defender Mr Rafael Marques was sentenced to six-months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, for defaming army generals in his book ''Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola'', that revealed killings and torture in the country's diamond fields. Rafael Marques is also the founder and director of Maka Angola, an initiative dedicated to the struggle against corruption and the promotion of democracy in Angola.

Mr Rafael Morais, coordinator of SOS Habitat, an organisation which promotes and defends the right to housing and land, also reported that, over the last weeks, himself and other members of SOS Habitat have been followed on a number of occasions by cars, and that their office has been under observation by unknown persons, who have also been asking questions of people who live and work around the office. Most recently, on 27 May 2015, as Morais was leaving his office and getting a taxi to go home, an unknown man entered the taxi after him, and made a point of greeting him as if he knew him, whilst ignoring the other passengers. After sitting in the back of the taxi, the same man made a call informing someone that “the order had been tracked down”.

Previously, on 14 May 2015, the premises of SOS Habitat was reportedly surrounded by unknown persons all day. At least five persons, who were driving two black cars and a motorcycle, were undertaking surveillance of the premises from 9am to 4pm, including filming and taking photographs. At the end of the day, as members of SOS Habitat left the office, their car was reportedly followed by the two cars and the motorcycle. After taking an alternative route, the following cars were unable to follow them. Only the motorcyclist continued to trail them, while seemingly passing instructions to his colleagues by phone. The human rights defenders drove to the police station, and the police subsequently apprehended the rider, who was taken for interrogation. Morais did not recognise the man who was following them, and expressed concern that the latter seemed to act in a familiar manner with the police officers during his interrogation. Two days later, SOS Habitat was reportedly informed by the police that they could not pursue the investigation due to a lack of evidence. Before this incident, members of the organisation had already reported being followed by a similar car on 30 April 2015. Recently, SOS Habitat has been working on a number of sensitive cases of human rights violations involving police officers and members of the armed forces.

At the same time, human rights defender Mr José Marcos Mavungo continues to be held in detention. He has been detained since 14 March 2015 in connection with a peaceful demonstration organised to denounce corruption, human rights violations and bad governance in Cabinda. His health while in detention remains fragile. Mr Arão Bula Tempo, who had been arrested and detained at the same time for the same reasons, was recently provisionally released. Both human rights defenders continue to face charges of committing crimes against the security of the state. For more details, see our joint statement here.

Furthermore, on 18 February 2015, the residence of Mr José Patrocinio, coordinator of OMUNGA, a human rights group based in the province of Benguela which promotes the rights of street children was attacked by two heavily armed men dressed in military uniform. It has been reported that the two men assaulted the residence's security guard, and stole a camera and telephone which located at the office. Although OMUNGA reported the incident to the police, the investigation has not yielded any results to date.

This series of acts of intimidation against human rights defenders has occurred in the context of increased restrictions on the work of NGOs in Angola. In March 2015, the President approved a new law providing for increased governmental interference in the activities of NGOs through the imposition of strict regulations, including the requirement of the submission of detailed reports.

Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned by the intensifying harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders currently taking place in Angola, and strongly believes that it is a direct attempt to prevent them from freely carrying out their peaceful and legitimate human rights work.