Angola frees Togo team attack activists

2010-12-22 19:00

Luanda - Angola on Wednesday freed four human rights activists jailed in the wake of a deadly militant attack on Togo's football team during the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

The four men were found guilty in August of crimes against state security over alleged links to a militant group that opened fire on a bus carrying the Togolese national squad to a match in the restive northern enclave of Cabinda.

But the ruling was found unconstitutional under a new law on crimes against state security, said Cabinda's attorney general, Antonio Nito.

"They are being freed because the law on crimes against state security has been adopted by the Angolan parliament and applies retroactively," Nito told AFP.

One of the activists, lawyer Francisco Luemba, confirmed he and his co-accused had been freed.

"I've just been released," he told AFP by telephone as he left prison to be driven home. "I spent more than 11 months in prison. I feel relieved. We were all freed at the same time."

The shooting, which killed two members of the Togolese delegation and injured the team's goalkeeper, was claimed by the separatist guerrilla movement Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Flec).

A total of nine people were arrested in connection with the attack, but only two of them had any direct link to the shooting, according to Human Rights Watch. The trial of two suspects started in Cabinda last week.

The four activists - Luemba, university professor Belchior Lanso, Catholic priest Raul Tati and former police officer Jose Benjamin Fuca - were arrested because they had documents about Flec and had travelled to Paris for meetings with exiled leaders.

One meeting had been requested by a government-backed mediator as a prelude to possible peace talks, according to Jose Marcos Mavungo, an independent human rights activist who monitored the trial.

Luemba and Lanso's lawyer said on Wednesday his clients had been treated unjustly.

"The Cabinda court found them guilty without evidence. I think the judge was guided by emotion, or by political pressure," he told AFP.

"We are going to bring a suit to demand damages and interest" for the time they spent in prison, he added.

Flec separatists have been fighting for Cabinda's independence for more than three decades.

Despite a peace deal in 2006, Flec factions continue to wage low-level attacks in the oil-rich province that is separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of territory belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.