19 January 2016

Angolan Cult Leader Trial Begins

The trial of Julino Kalupeteca, the leader of a Christian sect in Angola, began on Monday in the city of Huambo. Pastor Kalupeteca is on trial for the murder of nine police officers who died during a security force operation to arrest him in April 2015. However, the opposition claims that over a thousand of Kalupeteca's followers were slaughtered by security officers in the same raid-turned-massacre.

Kalupeteca and his followers, members of the Luz do Mundo (or the Seventh Day Light of the World Church), a breakaway from the Church of Seventh Day Adventists, were living in compound on Mount Sumi near the southern Angolan city of Huambo.

On 16 April, 2015, police came to arrest Kalupeteca on unknown charges and were met by some resistance by his followers. At least one police officer was killed in the ensuing scuffle before the army was called in. What followed was a massive crackdown in which over a thousand of people are alleged to have died. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to verify what happened because the mountain area has been sealed by the army since.

Angelo Kapwatcha is an Angolan professor and human rights activist who's compiling a report about those killed in the massacre.

"We get more reports every day," he said. "There may be up to 2,000 deaths."

Kapwatcha and his team have analyzed reports from several opposition politicians and journalists who visited the scene after the attack. Several soldiers who participated in the action also leaked videos to activists that show the clean-up of dozens of bodies.

The government, for its part, has only confirmed the deaths of 13 members of Luz do Mundo, who they say were "snipers" responsible for gunning down the dead officers.

Didier Pescard, a professor at the University of Geneva who's spent years researching Angola, doesn't think that the alleged massacre will come up at Kalupeteca's trial.

"The interest of the regime is to show that Kalupeteca is responsible for the deaths of those police officers. I would be surprised if the trial gave any time to the part of the story where hundreds of men, women and children probably died," he said.

Already, the first day of the trial wasn't looking good for Pastor Kalupeteca. Human rights activist Kapwatcha was at the trial in Huambo on Monday.

"The police did not allow us to enter," he said. "The attorneys and the family of Pastor Kalupeteca did not enter. Even around court, there were soldiers so there wasn't freedom. The atmosphere was not good."

He thinks that the trial is the government's way of "putting an end to the church".

Since the massacre, the government has described the church members as violent, religious fanatics. They've also linked the church to the opposition, UNITA, even though there is no evidence of this.

Pescard thinks that the church and its followers made the government nervous.

"I think that this trial and the massacre are the expression of a double insecurity. On the one hand, the success of the church itself is an expression of the feeling of insecurity for the rural population in Angola. The regime, on the other hand, fears anything that might look like civilian movements of rebellion."

Luz do Mundo may have brought together a large groups of people, but there doesn't seem to be evidence that it was rebelling against Angola's leading party, the MPLA, in any way. In fact, sources told RFI that Kaleputeca had even appeared in commercials for local MPLA politicians in the past.

Despite the high number of alleged dead and the many uncertainties around the trial, there has been little press about it. Paulo Ingles, a doctoral student in Germany who studies post-conflict Angola, said there were many reasons for this.

"There is a kind of indifference because it happened in Huambo. I think if this had happened in Luanda, maybe it would be would be different," said Ingles, who's originally from the Angolan Central Highlands, where the incident took place. "Also, there is an economic crisis going on in Angola. Finally, the government controls information and many people believe what officials say about the church being full of fanatics."

This trial hasn't been getting much international press, either. Many countries are currently forging economic ties with oil and diamond-rich Angola and are treading very lightly in terms of criticism on human rights issues.

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