An Angolan court sentenced 17 young activists to between two and eight-and-a-half years in jail Monday for rebellion against the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
The activists were arrested in Luanda in June after organizing a reading of U.S. academic Gene Sharp's 1993 book "From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation." The book's cover describes it as "a blueprint for non-violent resistance to repressive regimes."
The activists were accused of acts of rebellion, planning mass civil disobedience in the capital and producing fake passports, among other charges. Their sentences ranged from two years and three months to eight years and six months.
They were sent to jail immediately, but their defense lawyer requested the sentences be suspended pending an appeal in Angola's Supreme Court.
"These boys who were debating their rights are the ones they want to condemn, but President José Eduardo who steals everything is getting protected," the mother of one of the activists, Adalia Chivonde, told Reuters after the sentence was handed down.
"This sentence is garbage for me, it means nothing," she said.
No one was immediately available to comment at the justice ministry.
A halving of oil prices last year has piled hardship on Angolans as the kwanza currency has plummeted and the government has slashed public spending in one of the most unequal societies in the world, leading to an increase in anti-government sentiment.
Human rights groups have accused dos Santos of using the judiciary to crush dissent. Angola's state secretary for human rights said last year the country needed to restore trust in its justice system.
Prominent human rights activist Jose Marcos Mavungo was sentenced last year to six years in prison for an "attack on the sovereignty of the Angolan state" after he organized anti-government protests in the northern oil region of Cabinda.
Dos Santos has been in power for 37 years, but announced this month that he planned to step down in 2018.