Angolan activists likely to be released in prisoner amnesty

2016-07-21 11:43
President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (AFP)

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (AFP)

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Luanda - The Angolan parliament on Wednesday approved a prisoner amnesty expected to result in the release of 17 young activists - including a well-known rapper - under house arrest for an act of rebellion against President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

The law "pardons all crimes punishable by imprisonment of up to 12 years", Justice and Human Rights Minister Rui Mangueiras announced.

The amnesty will benefit around 8 000 prisoners but will exclude prisoners serving sentences for "intentionally committed violent crimes" such as sexual offences, drug trafficking, human and organ trafficking, the minister told parliament.

The 17 activists - arrested last year during a book club meeting at which one of the books was about non-violent resistance to repressive regimes - should "in principle" benefit from the law, said Human Rights Watch's researcher Zenaida Machado.

"However if it happens, it does not meet our expectations because what we wanted is for the government to drop the charges against the group or for a court to acquit them because they have committed no crime," she told AFP.

Zola Bambi, a lawyer for the group of activists, said he was disappointed that the government had failed to recognise that the 17 committed no offence.

They have "committed no crime that would justify the conviction. What we expect is an acquittal, not amnesty," he told AFP.

The activists were in March handed sentences of between two and eight years in prison but were released in June to serve out the rest of the sentences at home.

The activists say they are peaceful campaigners seeking the departure of dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979 and rules the oil-rich country with an iron fist.

Correctional Services spokesperson Menezes Cassoma said the law would help to relieve pressure on overcrowded prisons.

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