Global Witness organization anti-corruption campaigner Sarah Wykes is scheduled to face Angolan authorities today in Cabinda Province to hear why she was arrested last week. Freed on bail from prison five days ago, the British-born Dr. Wykes has been prevented from leaving Angola until Cabindan authorities process the paperwork relating to her case, grant her permission to travel back to the capital Luanda, and then leave the country. In London, Global Witness campaign director Gavin Hayman points out that ten days after her arrest, Dr. Wykes still does not know what she is accused of.
“They still haven’t provided clear data of the charges. Under Angolan law, after a person has been bailed and charged, the prosecution has five days to present the evidence. So effectively, the five days are now up. So today, they have to say what they’re going to do next,” he said.
Sarah Wykes’ bail was posted on February 21. She was released from prison, but was forced to stay in Cabinda until authorities there finalized charges against her. In the process, initial charges of espionage were converted from spying to violating national security, an accusation the group says covers broad and unspecific issues under Angolan law. Campaign director Hayman says that Global Witness attorneys find it very strange that authorities had released Dr. Wykes, but continue to delay processing the paperwork granting her permission to leave the country.
What could happen is they say they need more time for evidence, and the process may continue, but they would need to explain why in a normal required time period, they were unable to provide evidence,” he said.
Gavin Hayman says Angolan officials so far have avoided clarifying the charges against Sarah Wykes. This leaves her and her attorneys in a position where they cannot defend her.
“She stands accused of crimes she has no access to the information for what she’s been accused of. So now, that process must come to an end because the authorities must present evidence,” he said.
For the government to detail its evidence of national security violations against the defendant, it would have to relate Dr. Wykes’ involvement in Global Witness’ anti-corruption campaign and her work to gain greater transparency in the operation of Cabinda’s oil sector. Gavin Hayman says he believes the case won’t hold up and he urges that charges against Sarah Wykes’ be dropped.
“Sarah was there, fully open. She applied for a visa as Global Witness, and she went there not only to speak to the civil society, but also to the companies and the government to discuss progress on transparency. The big issue here is the Angola government saying it’s making limited, nonetheless real progress in improving transparency. And so the very fact that Sarah was there to ask these questions and suddenly gets charged with espionage, I think, has been a very unfortunate situation for Angola’s image. If there’s progress to be made, and the government is to act in good faith, it needs to now drop these charges, which Sarah and Global Witness deny completely,” said Hayman.