Angolan authorities have used force to suppress peaceful demonstrations and blocked journalists from covering protest rallies in the run-up to an election next year, said Human Rights Watch.
A burgeoning youth movement has this year organised six rallies in the capital Luanda calling for the resignation of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has never before faced such dissent in his 32-year-long rule.
The New York-based rights group said police and plainclothes security agents violently dispersed a peaceful rally of about 100 youths on Saturday, injuring at least 14, Reuters reports.
Media reports had quoted organisers as saying police arrested at least three people but the authorities denied making any detentions and did not mention injuries.
Human Rights watch said that police used toxic spray against journalists and one of the group’s researchers before briefly detaining four reporters.
“If the Angolan government was hoping to hide its violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators, it has failed,” Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch’s Africa director said in a statement.
“Government agents used unnecessary force against peaceful protesters, and then tried to keep journalists from reporting it.”
Political tensions are rising ahead of an election planned for late 2012 in Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, where an estimated two-thirds of a population of 16.5 million live on less than $2 per day.
Inspired by uprisings that toppled rulers in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the Angolan youth movement has organised the rallies without official support from opposition parties.
Clashes at a demonstration in September led to 24 arrests and injuries to protesters, police officers and journalists.
Dos Santos’ MPLA party, which won a 27-year civil against UNITA in 2002 and then crushed its rivals in a 2008 election, has long been accused of mismanaging oil revenues, avoiding public scrutiny and doing too little to fight corruption.
Still, it is seen as favourite to win next year’s ballot, which elects lawmakers and the president.
Dos Santos last month quashed some of the media speculation about his future by signalling that he is ready to lead the party in a re-election bid.