GENEVA (23 October 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, today urged the Government of Angola to release fourteen activists arrested in June after taking part in peaceful meetings to criticize lack of good governance in the country.
“Deprivation of liberty on the sole ground of having promoted good governance and exercised the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly may be considered arbitrary,” Mr. Forst warned referring to the case of Luaty Beirão, a prominent Angolan musician and rights activist, and the other defenders arrested.
“Such criticism is not only fully legitimate according to Angola’s obligations under human rights law; it is also essential to the free and public debate necessary for a healthy civil society in the country,” the independent expert stressed.
After their arrest, the ‘Angola fourteen’ were charged in September, together with two women rights defenders who remain at liberty awaiting trial, for the ‘preparatory acts to practice rebellion’ and ‘plotting’ against state institutions, both of which are considered to be crimes against the security of the Angolan State. Held in pre-trial detention for longer than 90 days, the pro-democracy activists were formally informed of the indictment on 8 October and their trial is to be held in mid-November.
Disturbing allegations have surfaced of ill-treatment of the activists during the detention. Some detainees have resorted to hunger strike in protest, triggering concerns about their health conditions.
“Defending and promoting human right has become an extraordinarily dangerous activity in many countries,” the Special Rapporteur said quoting his latest report* to the UN General Assembly. “Attacks against human rights defenders can be seen as devious attempts to undermine human rights.”
In his report, the independent expert draws attention to worrying global trends of threats and challenges facing human rights defenders, who are increasingly attacked or arrested, threatened or harassed, intimidated or detained.
“As the UN Human Rights Council independent envoy on human rights defenders, I call on the charges against all the rights activists to be dropped and that the ‘Angolan fourteen’ are released immediately,” the expert urged.
Mr. Forst’s statement has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, David Kaye; the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez; and the Chair of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, Seong-Phil Hong.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report to the UN General Assembly: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx
Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Michel Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.
The UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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Human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx
Arbitrary Detention: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/WGADIndex.aspx
Freedom of expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Peaceful assembly: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
OHCHR Country Page – Angola: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/AOIndex.aspx
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