Thursday 2.3.2017 in Latest Developments
Civil society in Angola has reported that authorities regularly prevent peaceful demonstrations, and that peaceful demonstrators are often arbitrarily arrested and detained. On 24th February 2017, 15 protesters peacefully gathered on the First of May Square in the capital, Luanda, to express their concern over the transparency of parliamentary elections scheduled for August. The protesters called for the resignation of Bornito de Sousa, a territorial administration minister, who is a member of the ruling party and responsible for the voter registry. There is concern that, with the voter registry under Sousa's control, there may be electoral fraud and falsification of votes. A parallel protest took place that day in the city of Benguela, where members of the anti-government group, the Revolutionary Movement, also gathered to demand de Sousa's resignation.
Local activists and demonstrators in both cities reported to Human Rights Watch with first-hand accounts and video footage of the police turning on the participants with batons and police dogs. Neither protest was officially approved by the authorities, though both groups had applied for permission to hold the events and had not received a response. Angolan human rights organisation, Omunga, issued a strong statement demanding an investigation and denouncing the violent response to both peaceful protests, stating:
"[The] violence with which the national police repressed and harassed the organizers and demonstrators blatantly violates the Angolan Constitution." (Translated from Portuguese)
Though Angola's constitution protects the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, this right is rarely respected and the government has often used violence to disperse demonstrations. In Freedom House's 2017 Freedom in the World report, Angola's ranking remained unchanged and the country is still considered 'not free.' In particular, the report cited the regime's use of violence to suppress any form of dissent.
On 18th November 2016, the National Assembly in Angola adopted five laws on the press, including on the status of journalists, radio broadcasting, television and the creation of a communications regulatory authority. There is serious concern among media professionals that the five bills would further restrict freedom of expression. Opposition parties, the Union of Journalists of Angola (UJA) and other media and civil society actors criticised the legislation, claiming that it could be used as a mechanism for strengthening state control over television, radio, press, social networks and the Internet.
One of the amendments created a communications regulatory authority, empowered with broad regulatory and supervisory powers, including the authority to decide whether a given communication represents good journalistic practices. Such a provision would allow the state to censor and obstruct the free expression of ideas and opinions. In addition, the regulatory body would most likely represent a certain bias, as most of the members of the regulatory authority are to be nominated by the ruling party and the party with the largest number of seats in the National Assembly. The independent Angolan media outlet Maka Angola issued a statement outlining the potential threats the new regulatory authority could pose to freedom of expression:
"The law confers police-like powers on the Regulatory Body to pursue investigations in any place where (social) media activity may take place – that includes workplaces, schools, peoples’ own homes and any public spaces where a journalist may happen to be."
Amnesty International's 2016/17 annual report found that civil society organisations in Angola working on human rights issues, such as Omunga and SOS-Habitat, have been prevented from freely using their own funds, in particular their funds received from foreign sources. Angolan banks have blocked organisations' access to their accounts on the basis of arbitrary bureaucratic restrictions. This policy has not only hindered civil society from implementing their activities, but it has also undermined the fundamental freedom of association. Last year civil society filed complaints with public institutions responsible for monitoring banking activities, but no response had been receivd by the end of 2016.