Freedom of the Press
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Media in Angola operate in a highly restrictive environment, which worsened in 2015 as arrests of independent journalists increased. Authorities repress coverage of sensitive subjects like government corruption and human rights violations, and independent journalists are monitored and harassed by state agents. Few independent media outlets have national reach, leaving government-owned media as the most widely accessed news sources. Online sources are becoming increasingly important sources of critical news, though not many people have internet access outside of urban areas.
- In June, 15 young activists, including some journalists, were detained on charges including sedition over their participation in a book club at which they were discussing a book about civil disobedience against authoritarian rule.
- The government prevented independent journalists and members of civil society from investigating a botched police operation that reportedly led to a massacre in Huambo province in April.
Legal Environment: 20 / 30 (↓1)
While the constitution protects freedom of speech and of the press, laws regarding state security and defamation impede the free practice of journalism. A 2010 state security law allows for the detention of persons who “insult” the Republic of Angola or the president in “public meetings or by disseminating words, images, writings, or sound.” Defamation and libel are crimes punishable by imprisonment. The government has repeatedly rejected international recommendations to decriminalize libel, slander, and defamation. In December 2015, President José Eduardo dos Santos expressed concerns about the spread of slander and “morally offensive content” on social media networks, and called for new legislation to “prevent the emergence of such practices.”
The government has used laws to harass members of Angola’s dwindling independent media. In 2014, a group of generals brought a criminal defamation case against Rafael Marques de Morais, director of the online news site Maka Angola, claiming $1.2 million in damages. This was the latest in a series of lawsuits connected to Marques’s 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, in which he accused several military officers of engaging in torture and other human rights violations, in collusion with private mining companies. Marques was charged with a total of 24 counts of criminal defamation. In May 2015, he agreed to a settlement with the generals and was told that charges would be dropped. Days later, prosecutors reversed course and Marques was given a six-month suspended prison sentence.
In June 2015, 15 young activists were detained on charges of state security crimes, including sedition, in connection with their participation in a book club at which they were discussing a book about civil disobedience to authoritarian rule. Members of the group, known as the Angola 15, were subjected to violence while in detention, and several, including rapper Luaty Beirão and journalists Domingos da Cruz and Sedrick de Carvalho, have participated in hunger strikes to protest their confinement. The group was held in pretrial detention beyond the legal limit of 90 days before being transferred to house arrest with ankle monitoring in mid-December. Their trial began in November, and has been repeatedly delayed. As evidence of the group’s alleged plot to overthrow the dos Santos administration, the prosecution introduced a Facebook page in which they had jokingly proposed appointing each other to cabinet positions in a hypothetical alternative government. The group’s trial was ongoing at the end of the year.
While covering a peaceful protest against the detention of the Angola 15 in August 2015, Marques was repeatedly detained and released, and his camera equipment was repeatedly seized and returned, in what seemed to be confusion among security forces over how to treat the internationally known journalist. In September, Marques had another brush with authorities. Immigration Services seized his passport and placed him in temporary holding at the airport on his return to Angola from a trip to South Africa. Marques was told that an error related to older orders banning his movement out of the country was responsible for the incident.
Angola enacted a freedom of information law in 2002, ostensibly granting citizens access to government-generated documents. Nevertheless, in practice, accessing information remains extremely difficult for independent journalists and news organizations that do not possess government ties. Key parts of the freedom of information legislation, such as the creation of a monitoring commission, have not been implemented.
Political Environment: 30 / 40
Dos Santos’s ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) continues to give preferential treatment to state-owned media. Interviews with top politicians and state officials, as well as access to information related to the government, are usually granted only to progovernment or state-run outlets. Such outlets tend to either ignore opposition activities, or to report unfavorably on them. Outlets openly critical of the government can face pressure. Human rights activists and independent journalists have accused the government of using its control over the media to suppress coverage of a bloody April 2015 police raid on a Christian sect based in Huambo Province; activists claim that many members were killed by police following a botched attempt to arrest their leader.
Self-censorship by journalists at both state-run and private outlets is commonplace. The coercive environment created by the government and security forces has even extended to Portugal, where oil wealth has allowed Angolans, including President dos Santos’ daughter, to make large investments in media and other companies. In Angola, the sudden closure of Semanário Angolense by its unknown new owners in 2014, and its failure to recommence publication in 2015, leaves Folha 8 as the country’s only remaining private, independent newspaper with significant circulation.
Independent journalists are regularly monitored and harassed by state agents. In 2015, many came to fear that they could be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention at any time. Foreign journalists whose reporting threatens to tarnish the image of the dos Santos regime have also been subject to harassment and intimidation. Those who seem likely to cover sensitive issues related to the government, corruption, or human rights have had difficulty obtaining visas to report in Angola.
No journalists were known to have been murdered in 2015. However, Luanda-based Guinea-Bissau journalist Milocas Pereira, who disappeared in 2012 while reporting on possible Angolan military involvement in a coup in Guinea-Bissau, remains missing.
Economic Environment: 21 / 30
The government both owns and keeps tight control over the largest media outlets in the country, including the newspaper Jornal de Angola, the television channel Televisão Pública de Angola (TPA), and the radio station Rádio National de Angola (RNA). Few other outlets have national reach, making these government-owned media the most widely accessed news sources. While several privately owned newspapers operate, most are owned by individuals with connections to the government or ruling party, and they are distributed primarily in urban areas. The denial of state and private advertising as a method of pressuring independent news outlets continues to be a problem. Authorities and private owners have occasionally seized entire editions of newspapers that carried stories critical of the government. With fewer independent newspapers in circulation, blogs such as Maka Angola and Central Angola 7311, and news portals like Rede Angola and Club-K, have become some of the most viable sources for critical reporting on the MPLA regime.
Internet penetration in Angola is low, at 12 percent of the population in 2015, largely concentrated in urban areas.