African politicians and pampered state bureaucrats can get emotional when talking about children. Their nations have laws and have ratified international protocols for child protection. Yet in Angola, 17-year-old Manuel Chivonde Nito Alves has just completed his seventh week in illegal detention in a filthy cell shared with adults.
Popularly known as Nito Alves, the teenage political activist is a prisoner of conscience who was arrested for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Nito Alves was arrested by the police at about 10 am on 12 September 2013, in Viana municipality in Angola’s capital, Luanda. He was arrested after collecting T-shirts which he had ordered to be printed with slogans against the Angolan president. The T-shirts were expected to be worn by individuals at a demonstration organized by a group of young people known as the Movimento Revolucionário Angolano- MRA (Angolan Revolutionary Movement) for the following week, on 19 September, in Luanda.
The slogans on the T-shirts read: “Out disgusting dictator” on the front and at the back: “When war is necessary and urgent”, in reference to the title of a book published in Angola in 2011, which called on young Angolans to participate more fully in public life.
Nito was arrested without a warrant and taken to an empty house in a field where he was interrogated. Later in the day, he was taken to the police station in Viana and the next day he was transferred to the Direcção Provincial da Investigação Criminal – DPIC (Directorate of Criminal Investigation) in Luanda. He was held incommunicado for about three weeks.
It was not until 6 October that he was able to speak to his lawyer and family in private. He was then transferred to the Central Prison in Luanda (Comarca Central de Luanda) where he is being held in a cell with nine adults, in violation of Angolan and international human rights law. He now receives weekly visits by his family.
Conditions at the Comarca Central Prison are bad: hygiene and sanitation is very poor and there is no drinking water which, together with the food, is provided by his family. Because of these conditions, Nito Alves often complains of vomiting and diarrhoea as well as severe headaches and bouts of malaria but he has not received medical treatment for these ailments.
Nito Alves has not been formally charged. Initially he was accused of defamation against the president on the basis of the writing on the T-shirts, an accusation that was later changed to insult (ultraje) of the president, which is punished under Article 25 of the 2010 law on crimes against the state with up to three years’ imprisonment. This is the first time that this article is being used.
The international human rights group Amnesty International is calling for action for the release of Nino Alves.