(AFP) - An Angolan court jailed four activists Tuesday over links to a militant group which carried out a deadly gun attack on Togo's football team during the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
The court in the restive northern enclave of Cabinda found the four guilty of crimes against state security, according to Human Rights Watch and relatives of the activists.
"This is clearly a lost opportunity to restore justice in Angola, and particularly in Cabinda," said Lisa Rimli, researcher for the Africa division at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
"A priest, a lawyer, an economist and a former police officer were arrested, charged and sentenced for political reasons."
University professor Belchior Lanso was sentenced to six years in prison, lawyer Francisco Luemba and Catholic priest Raul Tati to five years each, while former police officer Jose Benjamin Fuca was jailed for three years.
"I was expecting my children and other relatives to come back home with different news," Fuca's wife told AFP, confirming the sentences.
"When I got this news I lost my appetite for eating or doing anything at all. I'm deeply concerned about Angolan justice," she said by telephone.
The shooting attack during the Africa Cup of Nations, which killed two members of the Togolese national team, was claimed by the separatist guerilla movement Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).
The four men were arrested because they had documents about FLEC and had travelled to Paris for meetings with exiled leaders.
One meeting had been requested by a government-backed mediator as a prelude to possible peace talks, according to Jose Marcos Mavungo, an independent human rights activist who monitored the trial.
A total of nine people were arrested in connection with the Togo attack, but only two of them have any direct link to the shooting, according to Human Rights Watch.
"The government used this incident to crack down on peaceful critics, and the sentence today confirmed this," said Rimli.
"The supposed link (to the attack) was implied rather than stated," she said. "They were convicted on the basis of those documents."
Mavungo said the trial had been marked by contradictory evidence from the state about the nature of the charges, which initially appeared to centre on the shooting itself but later focussed on the meetings in Paris.
Catholic broadcaster Radio Ecclesia said demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse Tuesday to protest the trial, as heavily armed riot police guarded the building.
FLEC separatists have been fighting for Cabinda's independence for more than three decades.
Despite a peace deal in 2006, FLEC factions continue to wage low-level attacks in the oil-rich province that is separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of territory belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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