An Angolan court on Wednesday sentenced a man to 24 years in jail for taking part in a deadly attack on a bus carrying Togo’s football team during the Africa Cup of Nations in January, a lawyer said.
A second suspect on trial was acquitted of involvement in the shooting, which left two members of the Togolese delegation dead and the team’s goalkeeper injured.
Rights monitors, however, said the men were forced to sign confessions linking them to the January 8 attack, which almost forced cancellation of the continent’s premier football competition.
“Joao Antonio Puati was sentenced to 24 years,” his lawyer Jose Manuel told AFP by telephone, adding that co-accused Daniel Simba had been cleared.
The two men had denied involvement in the shooting, which was claimed by the separatist guerrilla movement Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).
Antonio Nito, attorney general for the disputed oil-rich northern province of Cabinda, where the attack took place, confirmed the verdict.
“Joao Antonio Puati was at the scene and his link with FLEC was established during the trial,” Nito told AFP.
“The judge was convinced that Puati took part in the attack,” he added.
However, Lisa Rimli, a Human Rights Watch researcher for Angola, who visited the men in prison, said the conviction was unsafe.
“We are concerned that no credible investigation was conducted to link them to the attack,” said Rimli, noting that the men told her they were made to sign a confession written in Portuguese, a language they did not understand.
“One of them speaks French and the other one speaks a local Angolan language. They were not allowed access to a an interpreter.”
Rimli added: “I have a feeling that the authorities were desperate to conclude this trial and find someone guilty before January 8.
Wednesday’s ruling followed a judgment one week ago that freed four human rights activists jailed almost 12 months ago for crimes against state security over alleged links to FLEC.
The militant group has 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 province, which produces 60% of Angola’s oil and is separated from the rest of the country by a strip of territory belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A total of nine people were originally arrested in connection with the bus shooting, but only two of them had any direct link to the incident, according to Human Rights Watch.
The four activists freed on December 22 — lawyer Francisco 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. — Sapa-AFP