On June 21, 2015, police reportedly arrested Domingos Da Cruz, a scholar of law and human rights at the Universidade Independente de Angola, reportedly in connection with his peaceful activism and affiliation with a group of activists known as the Luanda Book Club, 13 of whose members were arrested one day earlier. Professor Da Cruz has since been sentenced to eight years and six months in prison on charges of “preparatory acts of rebellion and association of criminals.”
On June 20, Professor Da Cruz was reportedly scheduled to attend a meeting of the Luanda Book Club to discuss the manuscript for his unpublished book, Tools to Destroy a Dictatorship and Avoiding a New Dictatorship, which outlines peaceful strategies for promoting democratization and respect for human rights in Angola. Professor Da Cruz did not attend, but the meeting proceeded as scheduled. Police reportedly raided the meeting and arrested 13 members of the group, on suspicion of “planning to overthrow the government.” The next day, police arrested Professor Da Cruz at a passport checkpoint on the Namibian border.
Professor Da Cruz and his co-defendants’ trial was originally scheduled for November 11, 2015 – roughly five months after they were taken into custody. The trial date was postponed a number of times after that, however, leading Professor Da Cruz and several detained activists to initiate a hunger strike to protest the delays. On December 18, Professor Da Cruz and his remaining co-defendants were released on house arrest until trial. The trial was held in March 2016, and on March 28, Professor Da Cruz was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison for alleged “preparatory acts of rebellion and association of criminals.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution and imprisonment of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the non-violent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and academic freedom – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecution and imprisonment aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
On June 29, 2016, Angola’s Supreme Court ordered the conditional release of Mr. Da Cruz along with his co-defendants pending a final decision on their case. The conditional release requires that Mr. Cruz remain in-country and check in regularly with the police until his next hearing.