An Angolan court on Wednesday freed 16 young activists, including popular rapper, Luaty Beirao, three months after they were jailed for allegedly plotting a rebellion against the country’s long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Most of them were arrested during a book club meeting where one of the books on the line-up was about non-violent resistance to repressive regimes.
The activists maintained throughout their trial that they were peaceful campaigners for the departure of dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979.
“Release warrants under house arrest were issued on behalf of 17 applicants effective from today [Wednesday],” the Supreme Court in Luanda said in a statement.
One of the accused remained in prison to serve a four-month sentence for a contempt of court offence imposed during the trial.
“They sentenced innocent people. Justice has been done. The struggle continues,” the activists chanted as they left prison late Wednesday.
The ruling overturns sentences ranging from two to eight years in prison, which were handed down at the end of a lengthy trial in March amid complaints about political repression.
Luaty Beirao, went on hunger strike for over a month last year to his detention.
Beirao, who holds dual Portuguese and Angolan nationality, has a loyal fan base in Portugal, Angola’s former colonial ruler.
As supporters waited for the activists to leave prison, defence lawyer Francisco Miguel Michel said he was “very happy”.
“Any court concerned with the application of justice would have ruled the same,” he said, insisting his clients are “committed no crime”.
Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado said the ruling was “long overdue”.
“The order should have been given immediately after the verdict in March… I am satisfied that the Supreme Court is upholding the law of the country,” she said.
The 17 had been charged with “preparatory acts of rebellion” and “criminal conspiracy”.
Earlier this month, rallies were held in several cities around the world to mark one year since their detention.
Prominent independent journalist and campaigner Rafael Marques said the group should never have been arrested.
“Their release was a political decision as a result of public pressure,” he added.
Rights groups say activists in Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, are being increasingly targeted by the government.