Amnesty International Report 2016/17 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Angola

The worsening economic crisis triggered price rises for food, health care, fuel, recreation and culture. This led to continued demonstrations expressing discontent and restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The government misused the justice system and other state institutions to silence dissent. Housing rights and the right to health were violated.

Background

The drop in the price of oil put Angola’s oil-dependent economy under severe pressure, prompting the government to cut the budget by 20% and seek support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In July, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern at regressive austerity measures by the state, including insufficient allocation of resources to the health sector.

On 2 June, President José Eduardo dos Santos appointed his daughter Isabel dos Santos as head of the state oil company Sonangol, the biggest source of state revenue and central to an extensive system of patronage.

In August, the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) re-elected José Eduardo dos Santos as its leader for a further five years, even though in March he had announced his intention to step down from politics in 2018. He has been President since 1979.

Justice system

Politically motivated trials, criminal defamation charges and national security laws continued to be used to suppress human rights defenders, dissent and other critical voices. The acquittal of human rights defenders and release of prisoners of conscience were positive steps, but the gains remained fragile without structural legislative reform and full commitment to international human rights law and standards.

Prisoners of conscience

On 28 March, 17 youth activists known as the Angola 17 were convicted of “preparatory acts of rebellion” and “criminal conspiracy”. They were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years and three months to eight and a half years, fined 50,000 kwanzas (US$300) for court costs and jailed. The security forces had arrested and detained 15 of the activists between 20 and 24 June 2015 in the capital, Luanda, after they attended a meeting to discuss political issues and governance concerns in the country. The two others, both women, were also charged, but only detained after sentencing. Immediately after the convictions, the activists’ lawyers lodged two appeals – one before the Supreme Tribunal and the other before the Constitutional Court. They also lodged a writ for habeas corpus, which was heard by the Supreme Tribunal on 29 June: the Tribunal ordered the conditional release of the 17 activists pending a final decision on their case.

On 20 July, the National Assembly approved an amnesty law relating to crimes committed up to 11 November 2015, including the Angola 17 case. Some of the 17 stated that as they had committed no crime they did not want to be granted amnesty. The 17 were prisoners of conscience, imprisoned and convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights.

Two youth activists were punished for criticizing proceedings during the trial. On 8 March, Manuel Chivonde Nito Alves, one of the Angola 17, said out loud in court, This trial is a farce”. He was found guilty of contempt of court, sentenced to six months in prison and fined 50,000 kwanzas.1 On 5 July, the Constitutional Court ruled on appeal that the trial had violated some of his constitutional rights and ordered his release. The same words were said in court on 28 March by another young activist, Francisco Mapanda (also known as Dago Nível Intelecto). He too was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to eight months in prison. He was released on 21 November, seven days earlier than scheduled.2

Human rights defenders

Human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience José Marcos Mavungo was released on 20 May following an appeal before the Supreme Tribunal. The Tribunal found that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. José Marcos Mavungo had been sentenced to six years in prison on 14 September 2015 for “rebellion”, a state security offence. He had been in detention since 14 March 2015 for involvement in organizing a peaceful demonstration.

On 12 July, Cabinda Provincial Tribunal dismissed the charges against human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Arão Bula Tempo. He had been arrested on 14 March 2015 and conditionally released two months later. He was charged with “rebellion” and “attempted collaboration with foreigners to constrain the Angolan state”, both categorized as state security offences. The charges were based on allegations that Arão Bula Tempo had invited foreign journalists to cover the 14 March protest being planned by José Marcos Mavungo.

Freedom of association

Civil society organizations working on human rights issues, such as OMUNGA and SOS-Habitat, faced undue restrictions on accessing their own funds, including from international sources. Banks prevented the organizations from accessing their accounts. This not only hampered their legitimate work but also undermined the right of associations to seek and secure resources, and had a broader impact on human rights in general. Despite their complaints to government institutions in charge of overseeing banking activities, no response had been received by the end of the year.

Freedom of assembly

The authorities frequently refused to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place, even though they do not require prior authorization in Angola. When demonstrations did take place, police often arbitrarily arrested and detained peaceful protesters.

On 30 July, more than 30 peaceful activists were arbitrarily arrested and detained for up to seven hours in the city of Benguela. They were planning to take part in a peaceful demonstration organized by the Benguela Revolutionary Movement to demand effective measures against inflation. All were released without charge. A few days later, four of the activists were rearrested, again without a warrant. They were released on bail. They had not been formally charged by the end of the year, but the Public Prosecutor told them that they were suspected of aggravated robbery, drug-trafficking and violence against MPLA supporters.3 No one was held to account for the arbitrary arrests and detentions.4

Freedom of expression

On 18 November, the National Assembly approved five draft bills (Press Law, Journalist’s Statute, Radio Broadcasting Law, Television Law and Social Communications Regulatory Body Law) that will further restrict freedom of expression. Opposition parties, the Union of Angolan Journalists and other civil society actors criticized the bills for enabling tighter government control over television, radio, the press, social media and the internet.

Among the changes proposed was the creation of a social communications regulatory body with wide regulatory and oversight competences, including determining whether or not a given communication meets good journalistic practices. Such a provision would amount to prior censorship and would hinder the free flow of ideas and opinions. The majority of the regulatory body’s members were to be nominated by the ruling party and the party with the most seats in the National Assembly (MPLA in both cases), raising concerns that the body would be a political institution that silences critical voices and dissent.

Right to health – yellow fever outbreak

An outbreak of yellow fever, first reported in Luanda in the last quarter of 2015, continued into the second half of 2016 and included suspected cases in all of the country’s 18 provinces. Of the 3,625 cases reported in this period, 357 resulted in death. The outbreak was made worse by a vaccine shortage at the major public hospital in Luanda where cases were first diagnosed. The UN CESCR recommended that Angola increase resources to the health sector, particularly to improve infrastructure and expand health care facilities especially in rural areas.

Housing rights – forced eviction

In its 2016 review of Angola, the UN CESCR expressed concern at the persistence of forced evictions, including from informal settlements and during development projects, without the necessary procedural guarantees or the provision of alternative housing or adequate compensation to the affected individuals and groups. Communities were resettled in makeshift homes without adequate access to basic services such as water, electricity, sanitation, health care and education.

On 6 August, a military officer shot dead 14-year-old Rufino Antônio, who was standing in front of his home in an attempt to prevent its demolition. The military police had been deployed there that day to deal with a demonstration against the demolition of houses in Zango II, Viana Municipality in Luanda, in the context of a development project. Those suspected of the killing had not been brought to justice by the end of the year.

  1. Urgent Action: Angolan activist convicted after unfair trial: Manuel Chivonde Nito Alves (AFR 12/3464/2016)
  2. Urgent Action: Further information: Angolan activist released a week early: Francisco Mapanda (AFR 12/5205/2016)
  3. Urgent Action: Angola: Four youth activists detained without charge (AFR 12/4631/2016)
  4. Amnesty International, OMUNGA and Organização Humanitária Internacional (OHI) urge Angolan authorities to respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly (AFR 12/4590/2016)