LUANDA, Angola — After one week of intensive international media attention on Angola’s dictatorship, 15 political prisoners were released from prison into house arrest this past Friday. The country's ruling dos Santos regime came under heavy scrutiny after paying $2,000,000 to American hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj for a Christmas concert that took place Saturday. The event was sponsored by Unitel, a telecommunications company controlled by Isabel dos Santos, daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled Angola since 1979.
“The release of activists reminds us that dictators are exquisitely sensitive to the glare of outside criticism. The dos Santos tyranny is normally able to keep its crimes out of the world media spotlight. When security forces massacred dozens of people earlier this year, the act garnered little attention. But in the case of this past week, when everyone is looking, they are forced to react,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.
The 15 prisoners released from detention included persecuted rapper Luaty Beirão and others who had been held since June after meeting to discuss a book on nonviolent resistance. According to the local anti-corruption organization Maka Angola, as of today the 15 individuals are under house arrest, each one guarded by 10 police officers. They are only allowed to make two 5-minute phone calls per week, and are banned from giving media interviews or speaking to local activists.
Their trial resumes on January 11.
“Clearly, the dos Santos regime is afraid of these activists and their message of change,” said Halvorssen. “The world should continue to support civil society in Angola, which moving forward will have a much larger interested audience."
As a result of Minaj’s Unitel concert, the dos Santos regime’s corruption was highlighted this week in major world media outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, BBC, Slate, Le Monde, El Pais, The Daily Beast, Mashable, Sky News, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, the New York Post, the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, National Review, the Guardian, NME, Marie Claire, The Hollywood Reporter, and Jezebel. Human rights violations in Angola were covered by media in more than 20 countries including Spain, France, Mexico, Germany, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Nigeria, Indonesia,
and South Africa.
Despite the worldwide calls for her to reject the Angolan regime's money, Minaj went forward with the concert on Saturday, even taking a photo with her sponsor Isabel dos Santos after the show. According to Transparency International, Isabel dos Santos is one of the most corrupt people in the world, and they have ranked her alongside former president Yanukovych of Ukraine and former president Mubarak of Egypt as one of 15 global symbols of grand corruption. Minaj — apparently still unaware of her host’s epic kleptocracy — posted a photo of herself with Isabel dos Santos on Instagram bragging about meeting "the 8th richest woman in the world," saying “This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!! S/O to any woman on a paper chase. Get your own!!!!”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.