Seven Angolan policemen were sentenced to 24 years each in jail yesterday for the murder of eight men in a poor neighbourhood, in what analysts said was a key step forward in a drive to end widespread police brutality.
Judge Salomao Filipe said the trial had shown that the policemen ordered a group of young men in Luanda’s crime-ridden Sambizanga neighbourhood to lie face down on the ground and then shot them at point-blank range in July 2008.
Five victims died immediately and three on the way to hospital. One of these managed to identify two of the policemen before succumbing to his injuries.
The shooting took place during a police operation aimed at ending gang violence, but the judge said there was no evidence that the accused had been ordered to carry out the killings.
“Although the defendants may have believed that the young men were criminals, their actions are unjustifiable,” said Filipe. “Each of you will get 24 years in jail.”
The seven have the right to appeal against the sentence, the maximum jail term for any crime in Angola.
Angry families of the victims demanded harsher punishment and refused to leave the packed courtroom after the judge read out the sentence.
“They took my son’s life. They should be locked away for life,” one woman yelled as officials escorted her out of the courtroom. “Police must pay for their crimes.”
In December 2007, in the same neighbourhood, police shot and killed two young actors who were taking part in a movie about a bank robbery and were mistaken for real criminals. Those responsible have yet to be brought to justice.
In its 2009 Human Rights Report on Angola, the US State Department said the oil producing country’s human rights record remained poor, citing numerous serious problems, including “unlawful killings by police.”
But some analysts said the sentences handed down yesterday, widely reported on local media, could signal a new determination to stop police brutality.
“This was a unique case in the sense that high-ranked police officials had to testify in court. The court seems to have carried out its obligations,” said Fernando Macedo, a law professor and human rights activist in Luanda.
“However, a lot more has to be done to safeguard basic human rights in Angola.”
Pic: Angolan police