Researcher: MWANA PWÔ ASSOCIATION
Edited by Thobekile Matimbe
Reviewed by Wakesho Kililo
The guarantee of fundamental rights is essential to everyone, including human rights defenders, as it is a barometer by which democracy is measured. However, the existence of some human rights in Africa is deficient, yet the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prescribes the ideal. In the context of digital rights, freedom of expression is a right with many complexities, especially for very recent democracies. It is one of the rights that base democratic societies in all its facets. When a society is free to express itself both offline and online, it can hold duty-bearers accountable. With accountability comes transparency, reinforcing the foundation of democracy.
Undue Limitation on Freedom of Expression
Many threats to freedom of expression exist, including sedition, which adversely affects freedom of expression. The criminalisation of criticism under the so-called “seditious libel” is a menace to offline and online freedoms and affects Angola. Social media is a platform where people express themselves about many things, including their discontent with their governments. Sedition laws apply to expression made online, and as such, they adversely impact how people express themselves online. They can be charged under penal codes for sedition in countries that have not outlawed these provisions. This leads to censorship and can affect the enjoyment of freedom of expression. While this right can be limited, limitations should be justified. Yet, sedition is an offence that portrays a lack of tolerance for criticism, which does not suffice as a justifiable cause for limiting the right.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 19, provides that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’This right has been articulated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and Angola is a State party to both treaties.
The Constitution of Angola in Article 40 stipulates that everyone has the right to freely express, disseminate and share thoughts, ideas and opinions, by word, image or any other means, as well as the right and freedom to inform and to be informed, without hindrance or discrimination. It further provides in Article 40(1) that the exercise of the right may not be impeded or limited by any type or form of censorship. Article 40(2) states that freedom of expression and freedom of information shall be limited by ‘the rights of all to a good name, honour and reputation, to the image and to the reserve of the intimacy of private and family life, the protection of children and youth, state secrecy, the secrecy of justice, professional secrecy and other guarantees of those rights, under the terms regulated by law.’ This means that the right is protected in Angola and is not absolute. However, international standards such as the Siracusa Principles state when the right can be limited. In Angola, government policies are yet to give full effect to freedom of expression.
The term originates in Latin (censūra), which is the inhibition of the publication of contents, coercive review and elimination of public information conveyed to safeguard the individual, collective, or interests of a government. Its purpose is to avoid any attempt to share information, opinions or expressions related to any informative, documentary or expressive subject, whether spoken, written or by artistic mentions.
Censorship has two facets, the explicit, embodied in a law, prohibiting the information from being published or making it accessible after having been previously analysed by an entity, which verifies whether or not the information can be shared or made public. It can be institutionalised, taking the form of intimidation or threats from the government, where people become afraid to express or show support for certain opinions for fear of personal and professional reprisals. This is the standard form, both offline and online.
The day-to-day coexistence with a censored environment can awaken in non-state actors this defensive instinct which can translate into self-protection or self-censorship, resulting in individuals refraining from expressing their opinions to avoid confrontations with the government. Censorship can limit the amount of information accessed online and can result in the withdrawal of particular views and opinions, which ideally should be freely expressed. This undue censorship is a violation of free speech. The adverse impact of seditious crimes, such as Law 23/10 of 3 December 2010 on Crimes against State Security in Angola, limits freedom of expression unjustifiably as there is no legitimate purpose for the law. Article 26 of the same law, for instance, provides for imprisonment of up to 3 years through public sessions or by disseminating words, images, texts or audios insulting the president or the country. Many activists have been subjected to this law through arrests for their conduct on social media platforms, leading to unwarranted censorship. In 2020, Angola enacted a new and problematic penal law. Article 333 of the Penal Code of 2020 establishes the offence of insulting the president’s figure or any other organ of sovereignty, punishable with imprisonment from 6 months to 3 years. In 2022, a young person was arrested over a video posted on Tik Tok.
In Angola, the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but there are still challenges regarding its realisation. The government must repeal sedition laws to ensure free speech offline and online. A hostile environment created by censorship is curtailing online freedoms. As such, Angola needs to promote freedom of expression proactively.