After being tortured for two hours by the police, this young activist couldn't walk. (Photo: Correntes do Kwanza Facebook page)

The Angolan capital Luanda bristled with tension this weekend, marking the one-year anniversary since a young protester was killed by police. At least two protests were planned, one to memorialise his death and another to call for the end to President Eduardo Dos Santos’s 35-year rule. Police were on edge and when several protesters tried to cross a barricade, they led a violent crackdown. A young woman filming the events was arrested. Her friend, who found her later that evening in horrible shape after being brutally tortured, tells her story.

Interaction betweenAngolan protesters and the police has been a vicious, bloody cycle. The young activist, a 26-year-old philosophy student, and her friends were returning from a memorial ceremony for Manuel Hilbert de Carvahlo Ganga, who was killed by a member of the presidential guard on November 23, 2013. Ganga was killed after police discovered him putting up posters demanding justice for Cassule and Kamulingue, two activists who had been killed by police several months before.

In the days leading up to November 23, 2014, opposition leaders had discouraged youth from protesting because they had information that police would “shoot to kill.” However, a group of four young activists, fired up from Ganga’s memorial ceremony, decided to try to enter Independence Square, which had been closed by police in light of the planned protests.

Demonstrators march on November 23, 2014 in memory of Manuel Ganga, a protester killed by the presidential guard a year earlier.(Photo Jpa Luanda Facebook page.)
 

“It was hopeless: four activists versus an entire police brigade”

Luaty Beirão is an activist, human rights monitor and member of collective Central Angola 7311, a group that works with a network of citizen journalists to share information censored by the regime. The young activists, including the woman who was tortured, also belong to this collective.

Beirão told the young woman’s story.
 
Police had closed Independence Square to the public because it was supposed to have been the starting point for a march. The entire perimeter was blocked with iron shields. The activists kicked down a few of these shields and attempted to enter the square, which was swarming with armed police officers.

Of course, it took the police no longer than 15 seconds to neutralize them. It was hopeless: four activists versus an entire police brigade. It was more of an act of pride and defiance than a realistic attempt to capture the square.

When the young woman was arrested, she was filming the police. Police confiscated her material. At least one other activist was taken into police custody and severely beaten, but he managed to escape. The young woman wasn’t so lucky. The torture session lasted two hours.

The young woman later recounted her story to the writers at Angolan blog Maka Angola.
 
"The National Police took me to a school building at the Commercial Institute of Luanda (Instituto Médio Comercial de Luanda), near Largo. Six police commanders and plainclothes officers from the state security agency (SINSE, Serviço de Inteligência e Segurança de Estado) made a circle around me. They began to torture me as the subordinates watched.

The commander of the Luanda island police station [chief inspector Manuel] said to me, 'Oh , you f***ing b***h , you're here to make trouble. ' He struck me between the eyes and then the others started beating me."

According to the victim, one of the officers handcuffed her so that she could not defend herself from the blows. Commanders continued to hit her with billy clubs, sticks and cables.

The victim urinated three times during the beating. "I begged for forgiveness. A commander told me ' you will not just pee during this beating, you will have to s**t as well.”

"An official from SINSE began to beat me with the iron bar in the back. He said that the iron bar had chilli peppers," said the victim.

The young woman's back looked like this after she was tortured. (Photo from the Facebook page of Central Angola 7311)
 
The marks are visible after she was tortured. (Photo from Central Angola 7311 blog.)

The young woman passed out several times during the beating. She thought she’d die. She was later dropped off in front of the Angolan Writers Union, less than 300 meters from the place where she had been tortured.

Beirão continued.
 
Someone found her lying on the sidewalk. She was taken to one of our public hospitals. Several of us went to the hospital to give her support, but there were also police and secret police on hand.

The medical staff let her spend the night but I don't think they gave her painkillers. In the morning, they told her to go... but she couldn't even walk! We eventually found someone to drive her home. She's still in agony, but yesterday, someone volunteered to pay her medical fees. She was able to go to a private hospital for some tests. We are waiting for a response.

Her family is very afraid. The police, while beating her, made clear they knew where she lived and worked and threatened that they would be back to kill her.

The two activists who were tortured are loaded into the ambulance (Photo: Central Angola 7311 blog)

The young woman was unable to walk even when released from the hospital (Photo from Central Angola 7311 blog).

“It’s clear now that whether you are a man or a woman, you’ll be hit if you go against the authorities”

In our culture, women and the elderly are treated with respect. I think she was very aware of it and used it in the past to go one step further in a dialogue with the authorities. She’s a quiet person, but was always brave when participating in a protest. But this is the fourth or fifth time that she’s been hit. It’s clear now that no matter if you are a man or a woman, you’ll be hit if you go against the authorities.

Her photo has been posted all over but I don’t think there will be significant changes unless there are more significant consequences for the perpetrators. In the past, we’ve filed complaints but now we want to press charges. If something is done, it has to be now.


Unfortunately, violence like this is common. Maka Angola also reported that police beat other protestors a day earlier, on November 22. Angolan police often use tear gas, water cannons and dogs on those participating in the anti-government protests. Most protestors have been arrested multiple times and are sometimes held for days on end. At least three have been killed under suspicious circumstances.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Brenna Daldorph (@brennad87)