20 April 2018

Angola: The Runaway Plaintiff Making a Mockery of Justice in Angola

Photo: Pixabay
Lady Justice, an iconic image of the legal system.
analysis

In my professional career, I stood trial three times due to my exposés on the powerful elite in Angola. The first time, the plaintiffs were the President and the Attorney General (AG). The second time, I took on eight generals in a bundle as the plaintiffs. Now, in a repetition of the circumstances of that first trial, the plaintiffs are once again that former president and his AG.

Each of these trials takes place in an alternative reality in which fiction trumps fact: as though drawing attention to their behavior is more offensive than the offenses themselves.

Now, for the third time as of April 16, 2018, Luanda Provincial Court has a runaway plaintiff making a mockery of justice.

Judge Josina Ferreira Falcão decided that the date of the trial must be moved to April 24, and the location to the Office of the Attorney General (AG) of the Republic, to accommodate the whims of the accuser, the former AG, General João Maria de Sousa. The latter claims special privileges and immunity to justify why he has failed to appear in court for what is now the third time.

Nothing prepared me for the accuser running away from me and wanting the trial to be held in his former office, behind closed doors, and with my lawyer unable to ask him questions. But let me first share another irony.

As I enter the hall of the courtroom, four individuals who were just positioned in the entrance's right corner, block my way with respectful greetings. One of them pulls me to the side with his handshake. They are senior officers of the Special Demining Unit of the President's Intelligence Bureau.

I am on trial for the charge of committing a crime against state security, more specifically, insulting then President José Eduardo dos Santos. The Law on Crimes against State Security calls it "outrage against a body of sovereignty". I face up to three years in prison for this crime, for having stressed, in 2016, that Dos Santos protected the corrupt. I face three years in prison for mentioning, in other words, that he was a kleptocrat.

There is also the second crime of "insulting" a public authority, punishable with up to an additional year in prison. I exposed a corrupt process through which the then attorney general, General João Maria de Sousa, received a title deed for three acres of a beachfront land to build a condominium in the coastal province of Kwanza-Sul. The director of the weekly newspaper O Crime, Mariano Brás, is also being tried on the same charges for disseminating my article, as other local publications did.

So, what were the officers of the president's special demining unit doing there? They claimed that it was rather difficult to establish contact with me, and my trial was a surefire way of finding me in court. First, they offered me their support, and informed me that they would be in the audience. Second, they handed me an envelope with documents pertaining their unit's predicaments: a tale of corruption, neglect of the sappers, and the worst of the presidency in human resources' management.

One of the documents is a letter of complaint that the commanders of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th and 13th brigades of the Special Demining Unit of the President's Intelligence Bureau sent to the new President, General João Lourenço, on December 6, 2017.

I ask the officers if they were fully aware of my own predicament. Almost whispering, they told me how they understood my situation, but that they had nowhere else to go to raise awareness of their case. The officers tell me that I shall triumph over the odds with fortitude to continue to serve those who regard me as a human rights defender. How ironic indeed!

The trial moves to the Office of the Attorney General

After the experience with the military officers, it is time to face judge Josina Ferreira Falcão. She is an awkward joker. In the previous session she portrayed herself as the "clown" with a big laugh, then she reprimanded me for an interview I gave in which I said my trial would be a sham.

First, she thanked the media for not publishing her picture as she had strictly imposed. Judge Falcão explained that she loved to go out and about on walks anonymously, and without fear, but if she convicted me it would spell trouble for her.

Here I am, on a sham show trial time and again, and now the judge is joking that it would be troubling for her to walk in the streets should she convict me.

Apart from her jokes the session was very short. The plaintiff did not show up. General João Maria de Sousa claimed, through his lawyer and the public prosecution, that he has immunity and special privileges. Thus he requested for the trial to be moved to the Office of the Attorney General. The judge ruled that the trial - in the place chosen by the accuser - will be held behind closed doors. Furthermore, I will be allowed to take only one legal counsel, who will not be able to ask questions directly to the former Attorney General. Again, jokingly, the judge said she will be the "parrot" in the room, and my lawyer would convey the questions to her, she will vet and ask the plaintiff.

In 2000, I was on trial for defaming President Dos Santos and then Attorney General Domingos Culolo. The trial was held in a courtroom, and the President sent his Chief of Staff as well as his press secretary. Other tricks were used such as the judge suspending my lawyer from practicing for six months, and throwing him out of the courtroom, but the sham trial was in the courtroom.

In 2015, five of the generals sat down in the courtroom as plaintiffs on the case they brought against me. It was tough, but there they were very dignified. Two of them have since bonded with me, and we chat regularly on the country's daily affairs.

But this João Maria de Sousa is just plain bad news. In 2013, the Rapid Intervention Police tortured me (and filmed it) in their headquarters, along with fellow journalist Alexandre Solombe and seven activists who had just been released from jail. General João Maria de Sousa, grossly ignored the criminal complaint I lodged in his office against the police abuse.

My lawyer, Brigadier Horácio Junjuvili (ret.), tells the judge the request is another delaying tactic and calls for the end of the trial, and for me to be acquitted.

This is the background.

Back in the courtroom, the ensuing legal justifications for the accuser to move the courtroom to his former office misses the constitutional point of a fair trial. More importantly it is just a display of cowardice on his part.

My lawyer keeps shaking his head and smiling in disgust. The judge asks him to share his thoughts for she wants to smile along. She sets the date for the next hearing. He says such is not admitted in court, but let escape how the delaying tactics are ruining his holidays.

The judge suggests Brigadier Junjuvili postpones his trip, suggests a cheaper airliner and, joking again, hints that they can even meet abroad during the holidays and discuss the case.

Thus the session is adjourned.

My lawyer has already filed a complaint on the unconstitutionality of the decision, and requested for the trial to continue at Luanda's Provincial Court. He has also filed for the charge against me, for the crime against the state security, to be dropped. Because it carries a sentence of more than two years, it cannot be tried in the kind of Police Court that I am currently facing. Anyway, the judge does not allow me to defend myself against these charges. She only wants to talk about the land allocated to the former Attorney General in Kwanza-Sul.

Come April 24, it is likely that there will be another twist. The change of president, after 38 years of Dos Santos' rule, has not been felt on the judiciary. There is no semblance of the rule of law, but the mockery of justice.

P.S. This is how I intended to end the article, but today, April 20, I received an urgent phone call to go to the Luanda Provincial Court, just minutes before it closed for the weekend. At the 11th hour, General João Maria de Sousa's legal counsel filed a petition to further postpone the trial. According to the petition, the former Attorney General will travel to Portugal, on April 23, and will not return until May 5.

This is now the fourth time the plaintiff has requested that the trial be postponed. The attached airfare, that cost a whopping US $8,335 for a first class seat, reveals that it was purchased on December 22, 2017.

So, the plaintiff knew that he would not be in the country on April 24. During the trial session of April 16, he had his counsel asking for it to be adjourned, and for the trial to be moved to the Office of the Attorney General for the day after his departure from Angola. The judge granted his whim. This is clearly obstruction of justice, and General João Maria de Sousa should be held in contempt of the court.

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