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Angola Criticized for Jailing Activists in Attack on Togo Football Team

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Scott Bobb

Human rights groups are calling for the release of Angolan human rights activists who were sentenced to prison Tuesday for alleged involvement in the deadly attack on Togo's national football team.

Amnesty International made the appeal after a court in Angola sentenced four human rights activists to prison terms ranging from three to six years.

They were found guilty of involvement in the attack on the Togolese national football team last January on the eve of the African Nations Cup.  Two team members were killed and several others wounded in the assault.

The incident occurred in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda which is the scene of a decades-old insurrection by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).  FLEC subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack.

Amnesty International's Angola researcher, Muluka-Anne Miti, said the four men - a priest, a lawyer, an economist and a former police officer - were jailed for political reasons.  Two of them are members of the banned Mpalabanda Civic Association of Cabinda.

"Amnesty International condemns the attack on the Togo football team," said Miti.  "We do call upon the authorities to make sure that a thorough investigation is carried out and that those responsible are brought to justice. However, this attack should not be used as an excuse to crack down on human rights defenders."

The four were convicted of committing crimes against the state under a law that Miti says allows the government to classify almost any act as a crime.

A fifth man has been convicted in the case under the same law and two more are awaiting trial.

Miti says the government is using the attack on the Togolese football team as a pretext to silence its critics.

"These people are, have been very vocal about the situation in Cabinda," added Miti.  "They have on many occasions expressed their opinions about conflicts in Cabinda and try to find solutions to the situation.  And we believe they have been targeted because of that."

She notes that the four men had attended a conference last year aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Cabinda.  Several FLEC members also attended.

Amnesty International says the convictions violate international law.  The four are to appeal.

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