OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ANGOLA REGARDING CONTINUED SUPPRESSION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN ANGOLA
16 July, 2015
To the President of the Republic of Angola
His Excellency, President José Eduardo dos Santos,
RE: Suppression of Freedom of Expression, Association and Peaceful Assembly in Angola
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), Amnesty International, SADC Lawyers Association and Front Line Defenders note with great concern, a serious pattern of disregard for freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly in Angola. We write to you, as President of Angola, to express our concern and request you to take steps for the restoration of respect for the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the country.
We note with great concern the use of state security laws in a manner apparently aimed at supressing these rights in the country. We are aware of at least three cases, involving 18 individuals, in Angola this year alone. We refer specifically to the arbitrary arrest on 20 June 2015 and continued detention of at least 15 individuals meeting to exchange opinions of a political nature. They are being held on suspicion of preparing to commit the crime of rebellion and attempt against the life of the president and other government members. Release pending trial has been denied. We also refer to the arbitrary arrest and continued detention of José Marcos Mavungo in the Cabinda Province of Angola in connection with the organisation of a peaceful demonstration. He is accused of the crime of “rebellion” and faces up to 15 years imprisonment. There is also the arbitrary arrest and detention of lawyer, Arão Bula Tempo and his client, Manuel Bionga, also in Cabinda and also in connection with the planned demonstration. Arão Bula Tempo and Manuel Biongo face charges of the crime of “collaboration with foreigners to constrain the Angolan state” and face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Your Excellency, Angola has an obligation, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to respect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and assembly, which specifically protect the freedom to meet jointly to freely exchange opinions and peacefully demonstrate for change in areas of discontent. These freedoms are also essential for the principles of “sovereignty of the people”, “pluralism of political expression” and “participatory democracy” set out in the Angolan Constitution. We remind you that, in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of Angola, fostering “democratic participation of citizens and civil society in the resolution of national problems” is a fundamental task of the state. To achieve such a task, it is essential for Angola to respect, protect and promote the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs.
Under international law any restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, expression and association must be prescribed by law, be only for the purposes of protecting certain specified public interests, , including national security, or protecting the rights of others; and be demonstrably necessary for that purpose in a democratic society. In this connection, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism has stated, “… a State shall not invoke national security as a justification for measures aimed at suppressing opposition or to justify repressive practices against its population.”
Criticisms related to governance, peaceful protests and expressions of discontent do not, in of themselves, constitute treasonous acts. We remind you in particular of Principle XII of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which requires public authorities to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals, and request that you inform all government officials of this requirement. We further request that you remind all government authorities of the position of the UN Human Rights Council that public protests should not be viewed as a threat.
We remind you of the recommendations accepted by Angola during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October 2014. These included an undertaking by Angola to fully respect and take measures to fully guarantee, protect and promote freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly in the country in accordance with Angola’s obligations. In addition, Angola undertook to step up its efforts to prevent, investigate and put an end to cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, including by ensuring those responsible for such cases are brought to justice. Your Excellency, we call on you to implement these recommendations in accordance with Angola’s voluntary undertakings and human rights obligations.
We thank you for your consideration.
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
Amnesty International – Southern Africa Regional Office
Gilberto C. Correia
SADC Lawyers’ Association
Front Line Defenders
Read the Portuguese version at: https://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/2015/07/16/carta-aberta-ao-presidente-da-republica-de-angola-sobre-a-supressao-continuada-da-liberdade-de-expressao-em-angola/
 Article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Angola of 2010.  Id, Article 21(l)  See Article 19, 21 and 22 of the ICCPR, Article 11 of the African Charter, as well as the African Commission Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Association and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa  Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, A/61/267, paragraph 20 http://freeassembly.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/A61267_English.pdf (accessed 1 July 2015)  UN Human Rights Council, resolution 22/10, the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, adopted without a vote, 21 March 2013.