Musicians continue to be outspoken activists at the forefront of political change throughout Africa, often bearing the brunt of oppression. Following news of the bombing of Studio Abazon in Burkina Faso by forces loyal to coup leader General Gilbert Diendéré, popular support is mounting for imprisoned Angolan musician and activist Luaty Beirão, who is due to stand trial next week.
The popular rapper (aka ikonoklasta or Brigadeiro Mata Frakuxz) is believed to be in critical condition in Clinica Girassol private hospital in Luanda, where he was transferred on 15 October 2015. He recently marked one month on hunger strike in protest against his detention. Luaty was arrested along with 14 other local activists in connection with a meeting to discuss governance issues in the country’s capital, Luanda, on 20 June 2015. The group were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
All 15 activists were formally charged on 16 September 2015 with preparing a "rebellion and a coup attempt" against the president. They were only officially informed of the charges, deemed crimes against the security of the state, after the end of the 90 days of pre-trial detention allowed by law. On 19 October, their lawyers were notified that the activists’ trial would take place between 16 and 20 November 2015 at the Luanda Provincial Tribunal.
For the past month, Luaty has only been drinking water mixed with salt and sugar provided by his family. He developed difficulties ingesting liquids and walking, and on 9 October 2015 was transferred to the hospital prison of São Paulo, where, according to his family, he agreed to take intravenous saline for the first time on 11 October.
On 11 October, supporters of Luaty and the other activists held a vigil at Sagrada Família Church in Luanda. According to the participants of the vigil, police were mobilized to monitor the vigil, including with guns, water cannons and canine units. Another vigil was held on 12 October, and several people were briefly detained by the police.
The son of a politician, Beirão was earlier imprisoned with a group of young people in Luanda for organising a protest march in March 2011, following the Arab Spring. On 11 June 2012, he was arrested again at Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal capital in an alleged drugs bust but was released the following day.
Amnesty International has called for Luaty’s immediate and unconditional release. The international human rights organisation said the continued detention of this ‘prisoner of conscience’ is a shocking example of the lengths to which Angolan authorities will go to suppress dissent.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa, said: “As Luaty enters his second month on hunger strike, we believe his health is now in critical condition and his life may be at risk. His original detention was an affront to freedom of expression and now the authorities seem intent on compounding this shocking injustice by keeping him in detention.
“All charges against Luaty, and his co-accused, must be dropped and he must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Muchena. “The 15 activists have committed no crime and have been imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. They have simply fallen foul of a government intent on crushing dissent. They are prisoners of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Amnesty International is campaigning on behalf of the group. A petition calling for their immediate and unconditional release has already collected over 31 000 signatures. Amnesty International has also documented how freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have been unlawfully restricted in Angola in their report ‘Punishing Dissent: Suppression of Freedom of Association and Assembly in Angola’, which can be downloaded here.