The U.S. expressed concern over Angola’s jailing of 17 anti-government protesters for terms between two and eight years, saying the move threatens freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The activists, including rapper Luaty Beirao and writer Domingos da Cruz, were charged with “preparatory acts of rebellion and criminal association” and sentenced on March 28, after first being detained in June. The U.S. is also concerned by “reports of procedural irregularities and lack of transparency in the trial,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday in a statement.

Angola, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest spender on the military and internal security, usually prevents protests by arresting organizers. London-based Amnesty International has called the sentences “an affront to justice” and criticized a “deeply politicized trial.”

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