In this screen capture from a video, prison guards hit prisoners with batons.
A video making the rounds on social media since Saturday shows prison guards viciously beating dozens of inmates in Luanda’s central prison, with the assistance of the police. The reason for these beatings remains unclear, but our Observer is glad that this violence, which is commonplace in Angolan prisons, has been made public.
WARNING, THE IMAGES BELOW MAY SHOCK VIEWERS
The footage is disturbing. Roughly 30 prisoners, most of them with their shirts off, are gathered in a courtyard and beaten one after the other by prison guards, policemen, and, most surprisingly, firefighters. The same scene is repeated over and over again: the victim is dragged on the ground and then surrounded by a group of men who beat him all over using truncheons. The last part of the video shows prisoners covered in blood, looking shell-shocked. One of the prisoners says he has a broken arm.
FRANCE 24 spoke to two Observers who both claim that this footage was filmed on a mobile phone by a policeman about ten days, ago in the detention facility of Comarca Viana in Luanda. In fact, during certain parts of the video, other policemen can be seen filming as well. When contacted by FRANCE 24, activists from Maka Angola, an Angolan human rights organisation, explained that the person filming the shocking scene told them he was trying to expose these practices.
FRANCE 24 has chosen not to publish the disturbing video, only screen captures. However, the video can be viewed on YouTube.
One of the guards drags a young man by the leg, while another hits him with a baton.
Firefighters also took part in the abuse.
The Angolan Interior Minister issued a statement on August 26 announcing an investigation to find the perpetrators of these attacks. He also added — without sharing any supporting evidence — that “these acts of violence can be in fact traced back to March 19, 2012”.
The year 2012 was marked by another prison scandal, in September, which involved officers from the Comarca Viana prison. A video posted on social media revealed the abuses that inmates were subjected to. As a result of the ensuing outcry, the authorities were forced to remove the prison director from his post a few months later.
At the time, the Interior Minister spoke of “an isolated act that does not reflect the quality of our employees’ work or their devotion”. Given these declarations, this new footage showing the vicious abuse at Comarca Viana puts the authorities in an awkward position. Either this footage was taken before the removal of the prison director in February 2013 (specifically, as authorities are claiming, on March 19, 2012, nearly a year earlier), in which case the authorities would be able to say they have since reined in abuses — or, alternately, the footage is in fact much more recent, which would then hurt their credibility.
One of the victims complaining that his arm has been broken.
“In Angola, the policemen working in the prisons were traumatized by years of civil war”
Lucia Da Silveira is the vice president of the human rights organisation Justice, Peace, and Democracy. She lives in Luanda.
I am pleased that a video that shows the abuses committed by policemen against prisoners in Comarca Viana has been shared. This is very much a benefit of social networks: to inform the population of unacceptable behaviour.In Angola, torture and police violence are extremely common in prisons. Through our organisation, I regularly meet with families of prisoners who tell me about the poor treatment their relatives endure. We reach out to the government but they just ignore us. Luckily, there are some brave people out there who are willing to share videos that provoke such public indignation that the authorities are forced to take strong measures, for instance by sacking the Comarca Viana prison director earlier this year.Angola suffered through a long civil war [from 1975 to 2002]. Many of the policemen and other officers working in the prisons received military training during this period and saw combat. They returned traumatised and filled with hate. They are extremely violent men who no longer have any notion of right and wrong. So it is unsurprising that such heinous acts are occurring today. Another crucial problem affecting prison populations is overcrowding [according to Angolan authorities, the 34 prisons in the country hold nearly twice as many prisoners as their maximum capacity], which creates tensions among the inmates and, as a result, tensions with the prison personnel.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund.