Agri-business mega projects displaced communities from their land. Although the restrictive NGO law was repealed, the space for individuals to exercise their civil and political rights continued to shrink. Peaceful protesters were met with violent repression; government critics faced criminal defamation suits. Attempts by Parliament to criminalize abortion in all circumstances were defeated.
Historic elections were held on 23 August. João Lourenço of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) became President. According to the Electoral Commission, the MPLA obtained 61% of the vote, down from 81% in 2012. Opposition parties – National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola-Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), and National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) − contended that the election results were illegitimate, but took their seats in Parliament.
The continuing economic crisis precipitated popular discontent with the MPLA. Because of the economic crisis, the government adopted a development model for agri-business mega projects, large-scale land acquisition, and dispossession of rural communities, which put community livelihoods at risk.
Political intolerance was increasingly normalized due, in part, to government indifference to sectarian violence in Monte Belo in Benguela province. Following the signing in 2002 of the peace agreement between the government and UNITA, the area became an enclave of political conflict with increasing polarization of and violence between MPLA and UNITA supporters. Monte Belo residents continued to suffer persecution, violence, death threats, intimidation and looting on grounds of suspected allegiance to one or other of the political parties. Despite public objections from civil society, the government allowed a culture of impunity and violent political intolerance to develop.
Freedom of expression
To silence critics, particularly journalists and academics, the authorities used defamation laws among others, restricting freedom of expression and access to information. The misuse of the justice system and other state institutions in order to silence critics remained commonplace. The “Press Law Pack” of five bills was passed by Parliament in January; it included Press Law, Journalist’s Statute, Radio Broadcasting Law, Television Law and Social Communications Regulatory Body Law.
The laws contained provisions that restricted freedom of expression, particularly press freedoms, through a series of prohibitive regulations on social communication and by establishing a communications regulatory body with oversight competencies, including the power to determine whether or not a given communication met good journalistic practices; this amounted to prior censorship and hindrance of the free flow of ideas and opinions.
The majority of the regulatory body’s members were nominated by MPLA, the party with the most seats in the National Assembly, which caused concerns as to the body’s independence and impartiality.
On 20 June, Rafael Marques de Morais, investigative journalist and editor of the online publication Maka Angola, and Mariano Brás Lourenço, journalist and editor for O Crime newspaper, were charged with “defamation of a public authority” and causing “outrage to a sovereign body” in relation to an article they published questioning the acquisition of public land by the General Public Prosecutor.
Freedom of assembly
The authorities frequently refused to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place, even though prior authorization was not required in law. When demonstrations did take place, police often arbitrarily arrested, detained and ill-treated peaceful protesters. However, no investigations were initiated into the police actions.
On 24 February, police violently repressed two peaceful protests by the Angolan Revolutionary Movement taking place simultaneously in Luanda, the capital, and Benguela. The protesters demanded the resignation of Bornito de Sousa, Minister of Territorial Administration, who was in charge of electoral registration for the August election and was also the MPLA’s vice-presidential candidate; these roles were seen as amounting to a conflict of interests and to a violation of the electoral law. After handcuffing and forcing the protesters to lie down, the police beat them with batons.
On 24 June, security forces violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration organized by the Lunda-Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, which campaigned for autonomy for the eastern and southeastern regions in Lunda Norte province. Security forces used live ammunition against demonstrators, killing a bystander, and injuring 13 protesters. They arrested 70 people; on 28 June, they were sentenced each to 45 days’ imprisonment and a fine of 22,000 kwanzas (USD135). Those who paid the fines had their sentences suspended and were released immediately while the others served their full prison terms. The protesters were calling for, among other things, an end to persecution and arbitrary imprisonment of their members, and for the release of political prisoners in Kakanda Prison in Lunda Norte.
Freedom of association
Repression of the right to freedom of association persisted. The space in which human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, broadcasters and civil society organizations could exercise their civil and political rights was increasingly restricted. On 11 July, however, the Constitutional Court struck down the NGO law which had been passed by presidential decree No. 74/15 in 2015. The law had restricted the legal framework within which NGOs could operate, and empowered the Public Prosecutor’s Office to suspend national and international NGO activities on suspicion of money laundering, or illegal or harmful acts against “Angola’s sovereignty and integrity”. The decree imposed burdens on civil society organizations, including excessive requirements and unwieldly procedures for NGO registration; excessive control over NGO activities; funding restrictions and sanctions.
On 25 September, six people, five of whom had been held in prolonged pre-trial detention for one year, were brought to trial before Luanda Provincial Court on charges of “organizing terrorism”. However, the trial was adjourned the same day when the Public Prosecutor failed to appear in court alleging health reasons. The Court granted the substitute prosecutor’s plea to be allowed more time so that he could familiarize himself with the case. Five of the accused remained in detention while a sixth, the wife of one of the detained, remained under house arrest at the end of the year.
Sexual and reproductive rights
In March, the government proposed an amendment to legislation under the Penal Code which would de-criminalize abortion in cases where a woman’s pregnancy was the result of rape, or when the pregnant woman’s health was at risk. Parliament rejected the proposal. The final parliamentary vote on the legislation was scheduled for later the same month, but was postponed indefinitely following a public outcry against Parliament’s rejection of the government’s proposal to liberalize the abortion laws.
Ongoing land acquisition for business, mainly in southern provinces of Cunene and Huíla, continued to devastate local communities who relied on the land for their livelihoods.
In April and May, the government of Huíla presented its Transhumance Project, which included plans to appropriate a water fountain used by the community of Capela de Santo António in the Kahila area of Gambos municipality. Capela de Santo António is home to 600 families who depended on the fountain for drinking water, and for their livestock and irrigation. The community was not consulted over the plans and the authorities did not conduct an environmental impact assessment. The government of Huíla remained determined to seize the community's water fountain in violation of the Constitution and laws including the Land Law and the Environmental Law.
In June, it came to light that the Angolan government had authorized the Agro-Industrial Horizonte 2020 mega project to appropriate 76,000 hectares of fertile land without the free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities. The land is in the west of Ombadja municipality and the south of Curoca municipality, both in Cunene province. It is home to 39 communities of 2,129 families with 10,675 children who live by the Cunene River. They have historically relied on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods. By the end of the year, vegetation on 15,000 hectares had been destroyed, including trees used for food and firewood, grass for cattle grazing, and burial sites; 19 families had been expelled from the land and forced into vagrancy with diminishing access to food and water.