Angola continues to interfere with individual rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as rights to freedom of the press. The government engages in censorship of news and sentences journalists for expressing criticisms of government officials. These actions are in violation of Angola’s own constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both of which secure freedom of expression.
The forty-year oppressive rule of Jose Eduardo Dos Santos came to an end in September 2017 when Angola elected João Lourenço as its new president. While the voting process itself was peaceful, the election still resembled the severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly as represented by Lourenco’s a problematic media law. During the election, the government censored the only means of national coverage available through state-run media and some of the private media and depicted only pro-ruling party coverage. As a result, the internet remained the primary method of criticism and opposition towards the ruling party during the election.
Despite the election, many of the censorship laws from Dos Santos’ Social Communication Legislative Package, enacted by the Angolan parliament in 2016, remain intact. These laws limit the freedom of the press, television, broadcasting, journalist codes of conduct, and the Angolan Regulatory Body for Social Communication. While there are currently no recorded incidents of the Angolan government blocking online content, the news and available information in the media continue to be preemptively censored. For example, some independent online news outlets have reported that they received regular communication from government officials demanding that they refrain from reporting certain issues.
Angola also restricts freedom of assembly, especially peaceful, anti-government protests. In February of 2017, the Angolan police blocked a protest consisting of less than twenty individuals in the city of Luanda who were peacefully requesting the resignation of an administration minister. The arrested individuals were sentenced to almost two months in jail, and the police justified it as protecting themselves from a security risk.
Moreover, Angola continues to impose prison sentences for individuals who publish material that is allegedly insulting or “libelous” to the country or president. In 2017, two high profile Angolan journalists, Marques de Morais, who runs the anticorruption website Maka Angola, and Bras Lourenco, from the O Crime newspaper, were charged for causing outrage and injury to public authority, each charge carried a maximum sentence of six years’ prison.
The censorship in traditional media forms and prohibition on assembly is a violation of Angola’s own constitution. Article 40 of Angola’s Federal Constitution, enacted in 2010, provides that all individuals “have the right to freely express, publicize, and share their ideas and opinions through words, images, or any other medium.” The censorship regulations that are expressly stated in Angola’s 2010 State Security Law, are in violation of its constitution. Article 25 of the State Security Law punishes insults to the government in the form of meetings or dissemination of words, images, and sounds.
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) also guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Article 19, as well as the right to freely and peacefully assemble in Article 20. While Angola was not a member state at the time the UDHR was ratified, Angola is a member state of the United Nations as of 1976. Article 19 specifically secures the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.” The international community should enforce these universally protected rights by extending them to the citizens of Angola and hold the government accountable for its violations of these globally recognized basic rights.