Freedom in the World
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Ratings Change, Trend Arrow:
Angola’s civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6, and it received a downward trend arrow, because as the economy deteriorated, the government increased its repressive measures, including the persecution of journalists, young political activists, and certain religious groups.
President José Eduardo dos Santos and his party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), retained tight control over the political system and significantly restricted civil liberties during 2015.
The drop in global oil prices damaged Angola’s economy and state budget, which are heavily dependent on oil exports. The government was forced to adopt unpopular measures such as eliminating fuel subsidies and restricting the use of credit cards, stoking social unrest. In this context, the authorities worked to suppress dissent, violently dispersing a number of protests and detaining a group of young political activists on charges of plotting a rebellion.
Political Rights: 10 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 3 / 12
The 2010 constitution abolished direct presidential elections, stipulating instead that the leader of the largest party in the parliament would become president. The 220-seat unicameral National Assembly, whose members serve five-year terms, has little power, and 90 percent of legislation originates in the executive branch. The constitution permits the president to serve a maximum of two five-year terms, and to directly appoint the vice president, cabinet, and provincial governors. President dos Santos has been in power for 36 years, making him one of the longest-serving heads of state in Africa, but his first full term under the current constitution began in 2012, meaning he could legally serve until 2022.
The parliamentary elections held in 2012 were deeply flawed and followed a number of delays. The MPLA captured 72 percent of the vote, a notable decline from its 82 percent showing in 2008. Still, the party maintained its overwhelming dominance in the National Assembly, garnering 175 of 220 seats. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) is the largest opposition party, holding 32 seats; the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola–Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE) holds 8 seats, the Social Renewal Party (PRS) holds 3, and the National Front for Angolan Liberation (FNLA) holds 2.
In October 2014, dos Santos confirmed that already-delayed municipal elections, called for in the constitution, would again be postponed until after the 2017 general elections. The president justified this unilateral decision by citing the difficulties experienced in organizing the 2012 elections and those anticipated in replacing existing local government institutions with new municipal governments. The opposition vehemently protested the decision.
In November 2015 dos Santos confirmed that the next general elections would be held in August 2017.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 6 / 16
Although five political parties are represented in the National Assembly, the ruling MPLA dominates Angola’s party system. Mutual mistrust, the inability to agree on common strategy, and enticements from the more powerful and better-funded MPLA prevent opposition parties from coordinating their efforts. Nevertheless, in September 2015 the four opposition parties represented in the National Assembly held their first joint parliamentary meetings to promote dialogue and discuss the state of the country with civil society leaders.
Throughout 2014, opposition members had criticized the government’s delay in establishing the Council of the Republic, a presidential advisory body that is constitutionally required to include members of the opposition. President dos Santos finally swore council members into office in February 2015; they had been appointed in January 2013.
Political activism in the exclave of Cabinda, home to a long-standing movement for independence or autonomy, is regarded with suspicion by the government and can draw criminal charges.
C. Functioning of Government: 1 / 12
Corruption and patronage are endemic in Angola’s entrenched political elite, which is largely unaccountable to the public. Allegations of corruption proliferated during 2015, including reports that the large Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which was already engulfed in a major corruption scandal in Brazil, had offered bribes to influential Angolans in order to secure local contracts. Reports of corruption involving a Portuguese conglomerate with suspected links to Portugal’s former prime minister also surfaced, implicating an Angolan businessman who had helped the company secure construction contracts for public-works projects in Angola.
Angola was ranked 163 out of 168 countries and territories assessed in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 14 / 60 (−4)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 5 / 16 (−2)
Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, the state owns Angola’s only daily newspaper, all national radio stations, and all but one national television station. These outlets, along with private media owned by senior officials and members of the dos Santos family, act as mouthpieces for the MPLA. Censorship and self-censorship are common.
Angolan authorities have consistently prevented independent journalists from reporting the news, denying them access to official information and events, preventing them from broadcasting, and threatening them with detention and prosecution. In May 2015, journalist Valentino Mateus was detained when he requested an interview with a police commander in Huíla. Also that month, journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a suspended six-month sentence in a defamation case stemming from his reporting on human rights abuses in the diamond-mining industry. In October, the state attorney interviewed the director and several employees of O Crime after the newspaper reported the suspected involvement of members of the police and military in drug trafficking.
The constitution guarantees religious freedom, but the government requires religious groups to meet rigorous criteria in order to receive legal recognition. In December 2015, the government proposed legislation that would reduce the membership threshold for legalization from 100,000 to 60,000. Legal approval was last granted to a new religious group in 2004. Roughly 1,200 religious groups operate illegally in Angola. All of those that have been officially recognized are Christian, despite the presence of tens of thousands of Muslims in the country. The government maintains that it has no bias against the practice of Islam. Although 15 percent of Angolans are evangelical Christians, the Universal Church is the only evangelical church recognized by the state.
In April 2015, the government reported that 13 civilians and 9 policemen were killed in a confrontation in Huambo Province between the authorities and members of the Light of the World Church, a breakaway sect led by a former Seventh-Day Adventist. Nonstate sources reported a much higher death toll, accusing the government of a massacre. Despite repeated requests from local and international human rights organizations, the government refused to allow an independent investigation of the incident. Shortly after the violence, President dos Santos declared the Light of the World Church to be a threat to peace and national unity.
There are no formal restrictions on academic freedom, though professors avoid politically sensitive topics for fear of repercussions.
While internet access is increasing in Angola, the government actively monitors internet activity and, in some instances, uses the data collected to crack down on dissidents. Offline communication is also subject to monitoring and punishment. In June 2015, police in Luanda arrested 15 young activists who had organized a book-club discussion about nonviolent resistance to authoritarian rule. They and two other suspects were charged in September with plotting a rebellion, and a trial was under way at year’s end.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 3 / 12 (−1)
The constitution guarantees limited freedoms of assembly and association. In recent years, police and security forces have prohibited demonstrations, violently dispersed peaceful political gatherings, and intimidated and arrested protesters in provinces including Luanda, Malanje, and Benguela. In August 2015, government forces violently suppressed a peaceful demonstration in support of the 15 activists detained in June.
Several hundred nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Angola, and many advocate for transparency, human rights protections, and political reform. Organizations that are critical of the government have frequently faced state interference and been threatened with closure. In March 2015, dos Santos issued a decree that requires NGOs to register with the government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to operate; NGOs must obtain further authorizations to receive donations. Once registered, NGOs are required to submit to government supervision and audits.
The constitution includes the right to strike and to form unions, but the MPLA dominates the labor movement, and only a few weak independent unions exist. Still, strikes do occur: In October, cab drivers went on strike in Luanda to denounce corruption and the dearth of designated stops for loading and unloading passengers. Several taxis were vandalized and many drivers arrested during the strike.
F. Rule of Law: 3 / 16 (−1)
In general, the courts are hampered by a lack of trained legal professionals, as well as insufficient infrastructure, a large backlog of cases, corruption, and extensive political influence, particularly from the executive. Municipal courts function in 22 of 163 municipalities. Elsewhere, crimes and conflicts are frequently adjudicated by informal tribunals, or by local police.
The president appoints Supreme Court judges to life terms without legislative input. Several examples of judicial abuse and lack of due process arose in 2015, including the arbitrary arrest and irregular legal proceedings involving the 15 young political activists accused of plotting rebellion, Marques’s flawed defamation case, and a separate rebellion case against Cabindan human rights activist José Marcos Mavungo, who was arrested in March and sentenced to six years in prison in September. International human rights organizations denounced Mavungo’s conviction, noting the lack of evidence against him.
There is no effective protection against unjustified imprisonment, lengthy pretrial detention, extortion, or torture. In August 2015, the parliament approved a controversial new law that gave authorities greater discretion to extend pretrial detention.
Angolan jails are reported to be overcrowded, unhygienic, and plagued by sexual abuse. They also contain a number of political prisoners, advocates of the Cabindan autonomy movement, and members of peaceful activist groups.
Tensions in Cabinda remain high. The secessionist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) and its supporters—many of whom live in exile—continue to call for talks on independence. Activists have alleged that Cabinda residents are not permitted to voice their opinions and are under constant risk of persecution and discrimination, as shown by the Mavungo case.
According to the head of police, there were more than 500,000 illegal immigrants living in Angola as of January 2015. West African immigrants complain of police harassment. Nevertheless, immigration from countries including Brazil, China, and Portugal remains high, and migrants from neighboring countries also continue to enter Angola in large numbers.
National law criminalizes “acts against nature,” though there have been no recent cases of this provision being applied to same-sex sexual activity. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people sometimes suffer harassment, and few formal LGBT organizations exist. The first same-sex kiss between men to appear on national television was broadcast on a soap opera in January 2015. After many viewers complained, the show was suspended by the state broadcaster.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 3 / 16
Several organizations have been working to remove landmines that were placed during Angola’s decades-long civil war. A significant drop in international funding in 2015 led to reduced demining. Landmines inhibit agriculture, construction, and freedom of movement, particularly in rural areas.
The process for securing entry and exit visas remains difficult and mired in corruption. Individuals who are critical of the government have faced problems when attempting to leave or enter the country. In November 2015, authorities prevented the well-known rapper and civic activist MCK from traveling to Brazil, where he was scheduled to give a concert. He had called for the release of the 15 people arrested in June for allegedly plotting rebellion.
Access to quality education is limited to Angola’s elite and the expatriate community. Literacy rates remain low, due to the shortage of qualified teachers and the lack of school facilities, especially in rural districts. Corruption and absenteeism among some teachers continues to be a problem.
In 2015, the government continued a campaign of forced evictions in Luanda and other cities. In Viana, for example, dozens of families were evicted with no prior notice from officials.
Bribery often underpins business activity, and high-level corruption ensures that wealth and economic influence remain concentrated among those with political connections. Despite years of abundant oil revenues, Angola has one of the lowest life-expectancy rates in the world at 52 years, and a large share of the population still lives below the international poverty line.
Women enjoy legal protections and occupy cabinet positions and multiple seats in the National Assembly. However, de facto discrimination and violence against women continues, despite a 2011 law against domestic violence. Child labor is a major problem, and foreign workers are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in the construction and mining industries. The authorities have failed to effectively investigate human trafficking or prosecute offenders.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year