“His conviction was politically motivated,” said Muluka Miti-Drummond, regional advocacy director at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) in an interview. “It flies in the face of justice and we believe that he was convicted solely because of his criticism of the government and organising a peaceful demonstration.”
In a joint statement, five rights organisations, including SALC, the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International, have called for his unconditional and immediate release.
Mavungo’s conviction on Monday appears to be based on his involvement in an alleged association with a group of unknown men said to have been found with explosives before a demonstration.
No evidence of Mavungo’s relationship with these men was presented during the trial.
“He was accused of associating with a group of men who allegedly had pamphlets and explosives but these men were never presented before the court nor were the explosives brought before the court,” Miti-Drummond explained in a phone interview from Johannesburg.
Sixteen other people are facing similar charges in the country, according to Lawyers for Human Rights – South Africa.
Mavungo is a former member of Mpalabanda, a group that was banned after it produced a report highlighting rights abuses by security forces in oil-rich but poverty-racked Cabinda province.
This Angolan territory, which is separated from the rest of the country by a strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo, accounts for 60 per cent of the country’s oil production.
But most of its 300,000-strong population lives in poverty and a separatist rebel movement has rattled the province for decades.
“That’s one of the reasons the government wants to keep him quiet,” said Maria Luz da Silveira, president of the Luanda-based Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy in Angola. “Clearly, there is an intention to make people stop discussing human rights issues.”
His conviction came only days after the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Angola to release all rights defenders, including Mavungo.
“I’m very upset for him, for his family but also for Angola because it means that the government is cracking down on human rights campaigners,” Socialist MEP Ana Gomes told RFI, adding that a series of developments have made it more difficult for the European Union to criticise oil-rich Angola, including “investments that Angolan kleptocrats have been making in Europe and mainly in Portugal”.
Angolan “tycoons,” she added, have taken a controlling interest in key Lisbon-based media and communications companies to ensure that “they control what is written or said about Angola in Portugal”.
Asked if European Union nations were in part guilty for the crackdown on rights in Angola, Gomes responded that they were “at least guilty for their silence”.
His lawyer, Francisco Luemba, says he will appeal against the conviction and sentencing next week.
“The court decision only shows that the entire legal process -- all those who had a role in this trial, the investigating judges, the prosecutors and the court itself – were obeying orders from above,” Luemba told RFI in a phone interview. “We will eventually appeal against the sentence. We think we will be able to file the appeal next week.”
Mavungo was arrested and initially tried on sedition charges in March. He was charged with “rebellion” in May and convicted on Monday.
According to rights groups, activists and journalists are increasingly targeted by the regime of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979.
Activist Rafael Marques was earlier this year given a six-month suspended jail sentence for defaming military generals in a book about diamond mining, Diamantes de Sangre (Blood Diamonds).