Dos Santos feels heat over 'murder'
A leaked report claiming two long-missing activists were tortured and murdered by government agents has sent shock waves through Angola and sparked plans for a nationwide street protest.
The episode has turned the spotlight on President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been working hard to polish his legacy as he appears to be preparing the ground to step down after 34 years in power.
Former soldiers António Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Sebastião Cassule went missing in May last year after they were involved in organising a street protest in Luanda for war veterans complaining about unpaid military pensions.
From the outset it was believed they had been detained by agents of the State Intelligence and Security Service of Angola (Sinse), the powerful agency notorious for operating an underground network of informants reporting to the presidency.
Amid appeals from international groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, who visited Luanda in April this year, the Angolan authorities strongly denied any involvement in the pair's disappearance and pledged to investigate.
Now 18 months later, an extremely detailed, confidential Sinse report describing how the pair were tortured in police cells and murdered has been leaked to Angolan website Club-K.
Reacting to the report, the office of the attorney general made the extraordinary admission that, "given the evidence collected, it became practically proven that the two missing citizens were kidnapped" and that they might have been murdered.
Three Sinse agents and an agent from the national directorate of criminal investigation were arrested last week, and Sinse's boss, Sebastião José António Martins, who until last year was interior minister, has been fired. The four are being questioned, but no charges have been laid against them.
The leaked report claims that Kamulingue was shot in the head and his body dumped in a wood, and Cassule, who died from the beatings, was thrown into a crocodile-infested river.
The dossier, said to have been kept secret for some time, names security agents allegedly involved in the disposal of the bodies. It also claims there are incriminating photographs and asserts that at least one high-ranking member of government knew what happened but took no action.
Dos Santos is already under reputational pressure following the prolonged detention of a 17-year-old for insulting him in a T-shirt slogan, and the issuing of an Interpol red notice against General Bento dos Santos Kangamba a high-profile member of the ruling MPLA who is wanted in Brazil on charges of "human trafficking for sexual exploitation".
Kangamba is married to a niece of the president and is a regular at palace social events.
Dos Santos has shaken off many scandals during his three-decade rule, including allegations that he has pocketed large sums of oil money and that his children have their fingers in the national till.
He also survived the infamous "Angolagate" probe into wartime arms deals.
But some believe the current scandal may be different for the 71-year-old, because the disruption of Sinse could weaken the carefully constructed power webs that have kept him in office for so long and are crucial to allowing a smooth transition without the risk of a military coup.
<strong>Decisive and fair</strong>
"This is a serious challenge for him," said Angola expert Markus Weimer of the Control Risks consultancy in London.
"He will have to try to be seen as decisive and fair in how he deals with it, but he also has to consider its impact on the elite and security service, a key pillar of his power."
An alternative theory has it that the sacking of Martins may work in the president's favour, both by
demonstrating that he takes the situation seriously and by weakening the power base of the former vice-president, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, known as "Nando".
Martins is said to be close to Nando, who is understood to be lobbying against the current vice-president, Manuel Vicente, tipped as a possible presidential successor.
It has also been suggested that, although low-level officers may be prosecuted, no one with real power or influence will be held to account.
The apparent murder of Kamulingue and Cassule has upset Angolans.
Social media sites are filled with angry commentary and pictures are being shared of images of people wearing T-shirts with Dos Santos's face on the body of a crocodile.
Angola's main opposition party, Unita, has seized on Club-K's revelations, laying the blame at the door of what they call the "tyrannical regime" of Dos Santos.
Unita secretary general Vitorino Nhany said the two activists "were murdered because they wanted to be free men in a free and independent Angola that respects the right to freedom of expression and the right to protest.
"They were murdered for trying to claim their salaries and pensions. We cannot accept this."
The party has called a mass protest for November 23, triggering an angry response from MPLA – whose politburo accused Unita of "trying to create anarchy", "chaos", "violence" and "terrorism" and of "taking the country back to war".
To label protesters as seeking to disrupt public order and rekindle conditions for civil war is increasingly a default position for the MPLA, which despite ruling Angola since 1975 is intolerant of criticism and does its utmost to silence dissenting voices.
So far the strategy has worked. Many protests are blocked, whereas others have attracted small numbers of demonstrators.
Jon Schubert, a risk analyst and political anthropologist at the University of Edinburgh, said that the confirmation of the deaths of the two activists may be "a trigger for a larger protest". But he added that the public sphere was "marked by general apathy since the 2012 elections".
It remains unclear how the police will choose to handle any demonstrations. Will they shut them down and risk more negative headlines and international condemnation, or will they let them pass peacefully?
Dos Santos is in Spain on a "private visit", his second in a matter of months, fuelling rumours that he is ill and that he wishes to move Vicente, who is deputising for him, into the limelight.
According to the 2010 Constitution, if the president leaves office mid-term his deputy will automatically take his place until the next scheduled election.
This means that Vicente, who until last year was chief executive of Angola's powerful state oil company Sonangol, should be a shoo-in for the job.
Families plan to sue the state
A law firm representing the families of the two missing activists, António Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Sebastião Cassule, on a pro bono basis, said this week that it intends to bring a criminal case against the Angolan government.
However, Salvador Freire, the head of Luanda-based Maos Libres ("Free Hand"), said that they were waiting for the attorney general, João Maria de Sousa, to make a statement acknowledging that the activists were murdered and identifying who might be responsible.
Freire also said his firm planned to bring a civil case against the government for compensation for the families, but gave no amount. It will also demand that the state take civil responsibility for the murderers, issue official death certificates and return their remains to their families for burial.
Meanwhile, the leaked secret service dossier that details the fate of the two activists indicates that police officers tried to pressure one of the activists’s friends to confess to abducting them on the instructions of the opposition party Unita.
Antonio dos Santos, a former mechanic in the presidential guard, was abducted with Cassule, but managed to escape and was on the run until March 27 this year, when he was tracked down by cellphone interception and detained by the national directorate of criminal investigation.
The dossier says the head of the organisation’s department of crimes against people threatened Dos Santos with a lengthy jail term if he refused to confess to the abduction. He refused and was released six months later.
According to the leaked dossier, Cassule was taken by members of the secret services to an unknown location where he was beaten for two consecutive days. It says that he died from the injuries and that his body was thrown into the Dande river to be eaten by crocodiles.
Alves Kamulingue was allegedly shot by a police official from Ingombota police station called "Kiko", who the dossier says is believed to be the cousin of the minister of the environment, Fatima Jardim. The directorate recovered Kamulingue’s remains near Luanda.
The senior officials arrested in connection with the alleged murders are Antonio Viera Lopes, provincial head of the State Intelligence and Security Service of Angola in Luanda; Paulo Mota, its head of operations in the city; Fragoso Francisco, head of the service’s office in the Viana municipality; and Francisco Pimentel Daniel, the directorate’s head at Ingombota’s police station.
Others implicated by the dossier in the actual killing, including "Kiko", are still at large.
Several attempts by amaBhungane to contact Eugenio Alexandre, director general of the directorate, were unsuccessful. – <em>Aristides Cabeche</em>