Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Oil and Gas: Angola arrests campaigner for transparency in the international oil sector

A campaigner for transparency in the international oil sector, employed by the nongovernmental organisation Global Witness, is still under arrest in the oil-rich Angolan enclave of Cabinda, where she has been accused of spying.

Dr Sarah Wykes, an experienced researcher into the links between corruption and human rights in resource-rich economies, arrived in Angola on 11 February to meet with representatives of Angolan civil society involved in the international campaign for transparency, known as Publish What You Pay.

On 16 February, Wykes flew to Cabinda, an Angolan enclave sandwiched between Congo Brazzaville and Congo Kinshasa, which produces well over half Angola's oil output of 1.5 million barrels per day. Within 24 hours of her arrival in the enclave, police confiscated her passport and accused her of spreading propaganda hostile to the authorities. On Sunday morning she was arrested and charged with carrying subversive materials. This charge was later changed and Wykes was officially accused of espionage.

Shortly after her arrest, Wykes told IRIN, "I have come here to meet civil society partners of the Publish What You Pay campaign, to discuss issues relating to transparency within the oil sector."

Simon Taylor, a director of Global Witness, said the organisation refuted all and any charges of espionage. Speaking to IRIN from London, he said: "This was not an investigative trip, it was fully in the open. She was not doing anything secretively."

Global Witness has become quite well known in Angola after producing two extensive reports documenting alleged corruption in the oil sector, related to the Angolan elite: "A Crude Awakening" published in 1999 and "All the President's Men" in 2002.

The organisation is seeking the immediate and unconditional release of Wykes.

Provincial attorney-general Andre Goma granted Wykes bail of 180,000 kwanzas (about US$2,250) at a hearing in Cabinda on Monday, but the decision to grant bail came two hours after local banks in Cabinda had closed.

According to David Mendes, a well-known human rights lawyer in Angola, who was prevented from defending Wykes, the decision to grant bail late on Monday was deliberate. "I am sure the decision to wait was purposeful, to make it harder for us to obtain the necessary cash."

Goma told IRIN he could not comment on any accusations made against him, or about the judicial process because "while the [legal] process is taking place, I cannot make any comments about the case - it is sub judice".

Human rights groups, several lawyers and a small opposition party in Angola, the Front for Democracy, have criticised the arrest and the decision not to allow Wykes to choose her own defence team.

Mendes has alleged that a civil servant in Cabinda is acting for her. "She [the defence counsel] is a civil servant, fairly low down the hierarchy, like a secretary who works within the court in Cabinda. She has no legal qualifications at all."

Goma said he could not comment on these allegations.

Global Witness is seeking an apology from the Angolan government for what they call the "mistreatment" of their employee. The organisation is also asking the British government and other international actors in Angola to demand the immediate release of Wykes.

The British consul in Luanda travelled to Cabinda, where the Angolan authorities granted immediate access to Wykes on Monday.

Agostinho Chicaia, a civil society activist in Cabinda who describes himself as a representative for the extinct human rights NGO, Civic Association of Mpalabanda, told IRIN that the Angolan government did not want foreigners poking about in Cabindan affairs.

"The government wants to sell the best image it can of this enclave. It does not want the outside world to know about the poor state of human rights here, and freedom of expression. It only wants to promote the story of huge oil resources and huge wealth."

Mpalabanda was shut down by the authorities shortly before a peace agreement was signed between sections of the Cabindan separatist movement, FLEC, and the Angolan government.

Angola is Africa's second largest oil producer after Nigeria. The black gold accounts for 95 percent of all export revenue, and high oil prices ensured economic growth of around 17 percent in 2006.

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Photo: Copyright Sonangol

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies