The Angolan police have killed several separatists during a protest in the country’s northeast over the weekend. This was confirmed by authorities and rights defenders, raising renewed concerns over long history of police brutality.
The crackdown took place against an unauthorized demonstration in the diamond mining town of Cafunfo in the remote Luanda Norte province, around 750 kilometres east of the capital Luanda and near Angola’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Members of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, took to the streets on Saturday without the required permission from local authorities. Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement is one of two active secessionist groups in Angola.
However, accounts of incidence by authorities and rights defenders said the deadly incident that followed do not match.
Police acted “in self-defence’
According to the Luanda Norte police, officers claimed to have acted in self-defence after around 300 armed protesters assaulted the Cafunfo police station under cover of dark, wounding two officers.
“In response to such an evident rebellion and in an attempt to disperse them… the death of four citizens (ensued),” they said in a statement issued by the government on Saturday, adding that two wounded protesters died later in hospital.
Although unverified, a video footage of the incident emerged on Twitter showing military and police officers as they stand over a dozen unarmed bodies in broad daylight.
Excessive use of force
From the video, some protesters could be seen laying motionless, covered in blood, while others are visibly injured and appear unable to stand. The video also captured one official seen kicking a man sitting on the ground and stamping on his head.
Senior Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado, who shared the video, said it was sent to her directly by a police officer at the scene.
“Protesters were met by excessive use of force from the police,” Machado said on Monday.
“The group claims that 12 of their activists were killed,” she added, saying that HRW was “in the process of verifying the footage”.
Angola’s main opposition UNITA party has meanwhile condemned the “barbaric murder of at least 21 citizens” by security forces and called on the government to “take a position”.
Angolan police are notoriously violent
Police are notoriously violent in Angola the legacy of a 1975-2002 civil war and almost four decades of repressed dissent under former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Machado said attitudes towards demonstrations had remained the same under current President Joao Lourenco, who took office in 2017.
Police violently dispersed several protests against poor living conditions in the capital Luanda last year, firing live bullets and tear gas into the crowds.
“One of the main issues we have frequently raised is the need to reform the security and defence forces,” Machado said. “They cannot continue to operate as if they were in a state of war.”
Separatist movements are banned by Angolan law.