With international heavyweights targeting Portugal’s bid to turn the page on austerity, human rights campaigners have also turned their attention this way, criticising the government for failing to repudiate tough jail sentences handed out to 17 young ‘dissidents’ in Angola.
The book club members were all rounded up in June last year as they met to discuss books, including one entitled “From Dictatorship to Democracy” by US author Dr Gene Sharp.
Their lengthy remand – during which a number held hunger protests – has been followed by a “joke trial” in which all have been handed jail terms.
One even received an eight-month sentence for saying the trial was a “joke”.
International focus on the events have led to ‘anger’ over the way Portugal has reacted to the sentences.
The UK Guardian explains that the former colonial power “failed to condemn” the jail terms, and actually blocked a motion to repudiate the sentences altogether.
It claims Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos (father of Africa’s richest woman Isabel dos Santos, who has a number of business dealings with Portugal) had warned Portugal against “interfering in Angolan justice” – but that campaigners will be holding protests here nonetheless.
Elsewhere, the US Albert Einstein Institution, the Human Rights Foundation in New York and Amnesty International have condemned the trial, calling it a “mockery of justice”.
AI’s director for southern Africa Deprose Muchena said: “The activists have been wrongly convicted in a deeply politicised trial. They are the victims of a government determined to intimidate anyone who dares question its repressive policies.”
As the Guardian adds, there were demonstrations last week in Lisbon in support of the activists, with “many protesting against the reverse colonisation of Angolan tycoons, who have been investing in Portugal’s cash-strapped news and telecommunications industries”.
Quizzed on this last week, prime minister António Costa said he could see nothing wrong with Angolan money coming in to ‘rescue’ the national economy, just as he could see nothing wrong with money coming in from Spain, Germany, China or “any other source”.
But clearly it is not a view that is going down well.
The Guardian stresses that last Sunday marked “the 14th anniversary of the end of Angola’s 26-year civil war, which began soon after the country’s independence from Portugal.
“Dos Santos, 73, has been president since 1979 and has been accused of presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments, amassing a great fortune for himself, his family and friends, while two-thirds of his country lives below the poverty line”.
While the jailed activists “insist they are peaceful campaigners lobbying for dos Santos to step down”, the president said earlier this month that he will be retiring in 2018.
The paper concludes dos Santos “has broken other pledges in the past”.
Anonymous Portugal hacks into several Angolan government sites
In protest to the jail sentences handed out to the young activists, hackers group Anonymous Portugal launched a concerted attack on Angolan government sites, bringing a number down for days.
According to information released by the group, around 30 sites have been compromised, either crashing altogether or going out with “changes to their content”, with images of Anonymous Portugal and the signature Anonymous mask.
Plans are to enlarge the attack to 83 sites, either today or over the course of the next few days, reports pplware website.
Anonymous Portugal has also got its hands on data from the hacked sites, which it has published.
The group explains its support of the dissidents, saying: “Those who put their lives on the line for a better society deserve all our support”.
Photo: Demonstrators showing their support for the release of 17 young ‘dissidents’ in Angola. The protest was held in Porto on April 1.
Photo by: FERNANDO VELUDO/LUSA