In 1975 Angola descended into an intense civil war that lasted 27 years, until 2002.
After the civil war ended, the regime came under pressure from the international community and from its own public to become democratic and less authoritarian. However, measures taken in response failed to bring about real change.
The Angolan government is composed of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch of the government is composed of the President, Vice President, and Council of Ministers. There is no separation of powers because the president controls all the other organs of the state. For decades, political power has been concentrated in the presidency.
The new constitution, adopted in 2010, further sharpened the authoritarian character of the regime. It substituted a direct election of the president with a system that grants the presidency to the top candidate of the largest party in parliament.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY PARTY REPRESENTATION
Jose Eduardo dos Santos, of the ruling MPLA, has been in power since 1979 and keeps tight control over all aspects of Angola's political life. Some Angolans credit the president for turning the country’s economy into one of the fastest growing economies in the world, which was achieved largely on the back of Angola’s prodigious oil wealth. However, many accuse him of authoritarianism, staying in office for too long, and failing to distribute the proceeds from the oil boom more widely.
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: PORTUGUESE
GOVERNMENT: PRESIDENTIAL REPUBLIC
PRESIDENT: JOSÉ EDUARDO DOS SANTOS
IN POWER SINCE: SEPTEMBER 21, 1979
RULING PARTY: MOVIMENTO POPULAR DE LIBERTAÇÃO DE ANGOLA (MPLA)
Restriction of freedoms of assembly, association, and expression is a prevalent concern in Angola.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Due to government repression, censorship, and self-censorship in state and private media, freedom of expression continues to be severely restricted in Angola. Criminal defamation and other abusive laws are repeatedly used to silence journalists.
The Angolan government defends the constitutional provisions on defamation, slander, and similar offenses, claiming it protects the interests of the offended party, and does not violate or restrict the right to freedom of expression. They further insist that the constitutional provisions on defamation are compliant with international standards. In 2014, Angola passed a restrictive law regulating the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Security forces continue to crack down on independent media, human rights activists, and other critics through criminal defamation lawsuits, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, intimidation, harassment, and surveillance.
On March 28, 2016, Angolan rapper Luaty Beirão and 16 other men and women were sentenced to prison terms that range from two to eight years for the alleged crimes of preparatory acts of rebellion and association with criminals. The court declared the activists guilty of “rebellion against the president” and “planning a coup.” The young activists, known as the Angola 15+2, were initially arrested and detained by security forces in June 2015 after they met to discuss Gene Sharp’s 1993 classic “From Dictatorship to Democracy. A Conceptual Framework for Liberation” — a book on nonviolent tactics that many human rights defenders and pro-democracy activist use to resist dictatorship.
Their lawyers were only officially informed of the actual charges on September 30, beyond the 90 days pre-trial detention period permitted by law. The trial itself was marred with irregularities, remaining closed off to journalists, foreign diplomats, independent observers, and family members until the final hearing with the Prosecutor's Office when the defendant's charges changed during the closing arguments.
HRF and Angola
FREE SPEECH UNLIMITED
Human Rights Foundation, in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation and Universidad Francisco Marroquin, provides a resource which outlines access to free speech and details relevant cases.
In December 2013, HRF denounced pop star Mariah Carey for performing a concert at a gala attended by the dictator of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos. The concert was organized by the Angolan Red Cross and sponsored by Unitel, a mobile phone company owned by dos Santos’ billionaire daughter Isabel. Carey reportedly received $1 million to perform at the event, which raised a mere $65,000 for the Red Cross.
In December 2015, HRF again drew global attention to Angola, by denouncing American hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj's scheduled performance in the country’s capital at a holiday party for Unitel.
HRF’s condemnation of these instances brought the crimes of the Angolan regime to the attention of the international media, which has often glossed over human rights abuses by dos Santos in the past. Both HRF campaigns were quoted and referenced by over 30 major news outlets around the world.
Rafael Marques de Morais and Maka
Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan journalist and civil rights activist known for his reporting on government corruption. In 1999, Marques wrote an article titled “The Lipstick of Dictatorship," in which he called Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos a dictator. Marques was subsequently arrested and charged with defamation. After a trial presided over by a former member of Angola’s secret police with no legal training, Marques was sentenced to six months imprisonment, but the Supreme Court suspended the sentence on the condition that he abstain from publishing anything deemed “defamatory" by the Angolan government for five years. He is currently the director of Maka Angola, an organization and blog dedicated to fighting corruption in Angola’s government.
Born in Luanda, Marques received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and media at the University of London and a master’s degree in African studies from the University of Oxford. He began working as a journalist in Angola at the Jornal de Angola, the only newspaper in the country at the time. After participating in a labor dispute at the paper, Marques left the country for a year. After he returned, he worked as a freelance journalist for Reuters and other news outlets. In 1998 he worked for the independent newspaper Folha 8 and became a contributor for the Open Society Institute.
After Marques’ trial for defamation, he dedicated his efforts to organizing a group of civic and religious leaders to call for a peaceful end to the Angolan Civil War. He has also written extensively about the trade in conflict diamonds in Luanda Province and corruption in oil-producing Cabinda Province.
In 2006, Marques received the Civil Courage Prize from the Northcote Parkinson Fund, which recognized that “his unvarnished criticisms of the Angolan army’s brutality and the malfeasance of the government and foreign oil interests put him at extreme personal risk." The U.S. National Association of Black Journalists awarded Marques the Percy Qoboza Award in 2000.