A magistrates court in Angola's capital of Luanda has sentenced an army sergeant to 18 years in prison for the 2016 killing of a 14-year-old boy during a peaceful protest against house demolitions. The court decision sends a clear message that members of the security forces are not above the law and will hopefully deter other military personnel from opening fire on unarmed protesters.
In Tuesday's verdict, the judge also ordered Sgt. Jose Alves Tadi to pay 1 million kwanzas (US$3,700) to the family of Rufino Antonio. Three other soldiers were sentenced to one year in jail for firing live ammunition against protesters on that day.
Antonio was shot dead on August 6, 2016, during a military police intervention to help demolish homes for a commercial project in the Walale, Zango II neighborhood of Luanda. The soldiers were met by a group of residents peacefully demonstrating against the demolitions.
Without giving any warning, the soldiers fired live ammunition in the air and at protesters' feet to disperse the crowd. One of the bullets fatally struck Antonio in the neck.
The judge said that Tadi and the other soldiers "acted freely and consciously, and as soldiers they were aware of the danger posed by a weapon of war."
Since Antonio's death, several other violent confrontations between security forces and unarmed residents have taken place during demolitions in Luanda. After the end of the civil war in 2002, the Angolan government, forcibly and violently evicted thousands of people with little or no notice in Luanda to create space to build new infrastructure. The governor of Luanda, Adriano Mendes de Carvalho, said recently that the police and military have used force during these operations, and even described some of those confrontations as "truly terror scenes."
In July police shot dead two women, one of them pregnant, during a peaceful protest against demolitions of houses in an area that allegedly belongs to a commercial, industrial, and agriculture development project by the Luanda-Bengo Special Economic Zone.
The Angolan authorities need to investigate why the security forces continue to open fire against unarmed protesters. They should ensure that police and security forces abide by international standards, and respond proportionately to peaceful protests and only use force when absolutely unavoidable.