Freedom now: technology and human rights hacktivism
Today, I’m going to share a project I’ve worked on regarding human rights.
In June 2015, 15+2 activists were arrested in Angola, while participating in the study of a book entitled From dictatorship to democracy : A Conceptual Framework for Liberation.
The book’s blurb describes it as “a blueprint for non-violent resistance to repressive regimes”. But the Attorney General Office accused the activists of preparing a coup to overthrow the Angolan Dictator Jose Eduardo dos Santos - which has been in power for freakin’ 36 years!! Nor even my black yellowish ass is that old, let that sink in!!
The charges against the group read out in court include acts of rebellion, planning mass action of civil disobedience, and some other stuff that’s only seen in Brazilian or Mexican soap operas.
For years that human rights groups accuse the Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his government of using the legal system to crack down on critics after several activists were jailed or detained allong the years on charges of crimes against the state.
The Angola 15+2 defence lawyer told the hearing his clients were not guilty of any crime because debate and freedom of speech were protected under the constitution.
An Angolan spy agent infiltrated the activists group and filmed a meeting where supposedely strategies to fight against the government and it’s dictatorship were debated. Domingos da Cruz Maninho, sentenced to eight and a half years in prison, and Luaty Beirão, sentenced to five and a half years, are the protagonists of the excerpt of the meeting.
Prior to this new case and arrest in 2012 another bizarre and unrelated (or related ) incident happened; Luaty Beirao was arrested at Lisbon’s airport after a package of cocaine was found in his luggage! Like a huge pack of cocaine 1 or 2 kilograms or something! I don’t consume, sell Coke and shit like that, but as far as I can tell… WTF?! 2 kilograms of coke duct taped to a luggage? How dumb would that be? Why would he do such thing?! Pure trolling yo!!
The Portuguese authorities end up finding that elements of “Angolan forces of authority” placed drugs in the luggage of Luaty; this was all over the news in Portugal, including a video showing the CCTV at the Airport, where you could see him put his hands on his head when his luggage arrived and noticed duct tape around his luggage holding a strange package. He was actually warned around that time that something like that could happen when leaving Angola…
So, there was a history of Police brutality, including the disappearance of activists and stuff like that and lead by the Angolan regime. This people are criminals, they can have you killed for no reason!
Luaty is someone I know from the Hip-hop scene, one of the most popular rappers in Angola and part of the Portuguese speaking Hip-hop community. I first got to know his music in the early 2000s and end up meeting him through Radio Fazuma that he’s part of; It’s a funny story because we were in Sintra, in a Fazuma event and he got a beer for me (he doesn’t drink), I said thanks to him and end up noticing his voice (while he was telling me that our friend Pedro Coquenao said to him I like beer) when I asked if he was “Brigadeiro Mata Frakus”, which he was surprised I found out because of his voice.
The activists story spread world-wide, articles in “The Guardian ”, “BBC ”, “Aljazeera”, “RT”, etc. The Angolan regime, probably thought twice before getting read of this guys…
Protests started outside Angola, including London, that I attended and met some incredible people.
But while the protests, vigils and the word was spreading Luaty Beirao went on a hunger strike, that lasted 36 days […] and the situation just kept getting worse.
Some Angolan’s started saying that the Portuguese government was sponsoring them, and I even read about some very crapy racist bullshit! Some even pointed out that Luaty wasn’t a really Angolan and that he’s white… as if the colour of someone’s skin determines it….
I felt sorry… I mean, been following the situation for a long time and always hearing about all this shit; so asked myself if I could do something to help?!
How can I help being me? A technologist?#
I knew I had to do something while this story was unwrapping, so started building a platform to spread the word. Talked with Pedro Coquenao, who’s one of Luaty’s friends and his gilfriend Catarina Limao.
Showed to them what I could do, inspired by a photo of Julien Assange that I thought was self explanatory. The feedback was positive and they helped a lot with all the networking, connecting to other related groups that were working in the cause and also bringing awareness about the platform.
The main goal for the app, was to allow any user to participate by sharing a photo, just like the Julien Assange’s photo holding the mssage “Freedom now” in Portuguese.
People in general seem to relate better if they can share their actions online, and that can grow exponentially if each of them share to their social networks and groups. And Ultimately, the platform was used to send an email letter to Angolan Embassy’s around the world and others. For each use who used the application and shared a photo, had the option to opt-in to send the letter automatically.
The letter was an appeal to release: Luaty Beirão, Manuel Nito Alves, Afonso Matias “Mbanza-Hamza”, José Gomes Hata, Hitler Chiconda “Samussuku”, Inocêncio de Brito, Sedrick de Carvalho, Albano Bingo-Bingo, Fernando Tomás “Nicola”, Nélson dos Santos, Arante Lopes, Nuno Dala, Benedito Jeremias, Domingos da Cruz e Osvaldo Caholo. The Angola 15+2.
A huge number of people participated > 5k. A lot of people I don’t know personally or ever thought about, used the platform, even well known portuguese artists, the so called celebrities, etc.
Today, we can find about about abuse almost instantaneously and alert the world as it happens; we can respond with our own means, organising groups of people, the arts, politics, technology, etc. The speed with which the news run accross the globe, shows the tremendous capability our skills can offer to help.
Altough data security, encryption and anonymity are still required to keep victims of abuse, tirany, oppression safe, in countries where people have Freedom of speech, we can use the power of the people to drive pressure against the horrible opressive regimes that still exist on earth.
Is this the end? A new beginning? or a new reallity?