Angolan security officials killed several separatists protesting in the country’s northeast over the weekend, authorities and rights defenders said, raising fresh concerns over a long-standing culture of police brutality.
The crackdown took place against an unauthorised demonstration in the diamond mining town of Cafunfo in the remote Luanda Norte province, around 750 kilometres (470 miles) east of the capital Luanda and near Angola’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Members of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, one of two active secessionist groups in the vast southwest African country, took to the streets on Saturday without the go-ahead from local authorities.
Authorities’ and rights defenders’ accounts of the deadly incident that followed do not match.
Luanda Norte police claim officers acted in self-defence after around 300 armed protesters assaulted the Cafunfo police station under cover of dark, wounding two officers.
“In response to such an evident rebellion and in an attempt to disperse them… the death of four citizens (ensued),” they said in a statement issued by the government on Saturday, adding that two wounded protesters died later in hospital.
But unverified video footage of the incident circulated on Twitter shows military and police officers standing over a dozen unarmed bodies in broad daylight.
Some lie motionless, covered in blood, while others are visibly injured and appear unable to stand. One official is seen kicking a man sitting on the ground and stamping on his head.
Senior Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado, who shared the video, said it was sent to her directly by a police officer at the scene.
“Protesters were met by excessive use of force from the police,” Machado told AFP on Monday.
“The group claims that 12 of their activists were killed,” she added, saying that HRW was “in the process of verifying the footage”.
Angola’s main opposition UNITA party has meanwhile condemned the “barbaric murder of at least 21 citizens” by security forces and called on the government to “take a position”.
Police are notoriously violent in Angola — the legacy of a 1975-2002 civil war and almost four decades of repressed dissent under former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Machado said attitudes towards demonstrations had remained the same under current President Joao Lourenco, who took office in 2017.
Police violently dispersed several protests against poor living conditions in the capital Luanda last year, firing live bullets and tear gas into the crowds.
“One of the main issues we have frequently raised is the need to reform the security and defence forces,” Machado said. “They cannot continue to operate as if they were in a state of war.”
Separatist movements are banned by Angolan law.