|March 13, 2012
Police silence the media, rights groups warn
Rights groups and activists are warning of a rapidly deteriorating political climate in Angola following a police raid on a private newspaper and a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
On the morning of March 12, computers were seized from the offices of the outspoken Folha 8, one of Angola's pivate publications that is critical of the government, under a warrant investigating "crimes of outrage against the state" and violations of press freedom. The effective shut-down of the paper and the questioning of its editor, William Tonet, whose mobile phone battery was also confiscated, comes just 48 hours after attempts by Angolan youths to stage demonstrations in the capital Luanda and southern coastal city of Benguela. The marches had been convened to protest about irregularities in the electoral process including the appointment of a member of the ruling party to run the National Electoral Commission.
Although only a few dozen people gathered in each city, neither protest was allowed to go ahead. In Benguela heavily armed police broke up the crowds making several arrests, while in Luanda, where in the days running up to the events there had been reports of house raids, threats against the organisers, an unidentified armed gang launched a violent street attack on the organisers leaving several people seriously injured.
Lisa Rimli, from New York-based lobby group Human Rights Watch, said: "We are especially concerned about what is happening in Angola because this is an election year when people should be allowed to express themselves freely. "That people are not being allowed to stage public demonstrations, which is their right under the constitution, and that private newspapers are being targeted like this, it is very worrying," she added.
Angola's Policia Nacional or national police has denounced the violence, blaming the clashes on rival gangs and "hooligans", and a spokesman pledged a full investigation into what happened.
Until recently, political protests were rare in Angola where few have dared to criticise the authorities for fear of losing their job or the little stability they had found since the end of the country's three-decade civil war in 2002. But in response to what is seen as the government's failure to share out a peace dividend to the majority, despite the country's enormous oil wealth, and the weakness of the parliamentary opposition, since March 2012 youth movements have been taking to the streets. As well as complaining about inequality and poor public services, the youth have been calling for Angola's president of 32 years, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, to step down.
Angola is one of Africa's fastest-growing economies whose GDP is forecast to swell by 12 percent this year. Half the population, however, remains in poverty with no access to drinking water and the country has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world with one in five youngsters dying before their fifth birthday.