The activists said they had been discussing “From Dictatorship to Democracy” a 20-year old text about non-violent resistance to repressive regimes in a book club when they were detained in June 2015. Two other young men were arrested later, while two women were indicted, but remained at liberty.
Beirão received a five-year sentence for “rebellion against the president of the republic, criminal association and falsifying documents.”
A second defendant, Domingos da Cruz, a university professor and author, named as the leader of the group by the judge, was handed the longest sentence – eight and a half years – for attempting to stage a coup and being part of a criminal organization.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International condemned the long detentions, calling the youths “prisoners of conscience.”
“These activists, held for over five months on trumped up charges, have not only been unjustly detained, but have also found themselves before a kangaroo court in which the principles of law and justice are being disregarded,” Amnesty’s deputy director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwananyanda said. “They have been arrested solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of association and expression.”
Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, weighed in on the case. Vice News quoted him to say: “Questions remain about the motivation for the arrests of these young people, who – on reports that I have seen – appear simply to have been discussing methods of peaceful protest.”
In an interview with the Portuguese media outlet Público, Beirão said he was being persecuted “because I took a clear position against the current state of things.”
“I wasn’t the first one to do it,” he said. “But all you need is someone who wants to please the boss and says, ‘This boy needs to be punished, he needs to learn that he shouldn’t mess up with the almighty Angolan state.’ ”
Human Rights Watch researcher for Angola and Mozambique Zenaida Machado vowed that the group would continue to put pressure on Luanda give the men a more transparent trial.