NEW YORK - Angola’s parliament should significantly revise or withdraw a proposed national security law that fails to meet international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said today.

The draft National Security Law passed a first vote in parliament on January 25, 2024. Following specialist committee review, the bill is expected to be submitted to parliament for final approval.

The draft law in its current form would permit excessive government control over private institutions, including media organizations, and undermine the rights to freedom of the press, expression, and association.

“The proposed national security law would give the Angolan government broad authority to improperly interfere with the media and civil society groups,” said Zenaida Machado, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament should stand up for basic rights and freedoms, and substantially revise or reject the current bill.”

The national security bill has not been made public, but Human Rights Watch has reviewed a recent draft. It contains a number of provisions contrary to the rights to freedom of expression and the press set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Angola ratified in 1992, and other international and regional human rights treaties. The Angolan constitution also protects these rights.

For instance, draft article 36 gives government security forces the authority to prohibit public or private radio stations from broadcasting and to disrupt some telecommunication services under “exceptional circumstances” without a court order. The bill does not specify what would constitute “exceptional circumstances.” It would also authorize security forces to inspect “establishments or other public places or places open to the public” and “surveil [their] security equipment,” without judicial approval or oversight.

Draft article 40 would require workers of public and private companies and others to report to security forces any facts they become aware of in the course of their duties or because of them that constitute risks and threats to national security. Failure to abide by this provision could result in criminal prosecution.

Domestic and international human rights groups have been highly critical of the draft law. Florindo Chivucute, president of the human rights group Friends of Angola, told Human Rights Watch that the bill posed a long-term threat to Angola’s democracy. The Angolan organization Mãos Livres (Free Hands) expressed concern that the new law would “promote an authoritarian and repressive state.” The Committee to Protect Journalists said the bill could “severely undermine press freedom, further exposing journalists to harassment, intimidation, and censorship by authorities.”

The Angolan government has not publicly discussed the contents of the draft law. The Minister of State and head of the Military House of the President, Francisco Furtado, told members of parliament that it “was not appropriate” to discuss the national security law, and that lawmakers would have the opportunity “to enrich the bill” during specialist committee review. The minister did not respond to a Human Rights Watch text message requesting a comment.

The Angolan government has repeatedly enacted repressive legislation, Human Rights Watch said. In January 2017, then-President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos signed a media law that severely limited freedom of expression. In May 2023, parliament voted on the first draft of the law on the status of nongovernmental organizations, which civil society groups said contradicts Angola’s international legal obligations to uphold the freedoms of expression and assembly.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa provide for limitations on the right to freedom of expression to protect national security. However, such limitations must be necessary and proportionate and fulfill certain conditions that the draft law does not provide.

The African declaration of principles adds that “[s]tates shall ensure that any law limiting the rights to freedom of expression and access to information is overseen by an independent body in a manner that is not arbitrary or discriminatory” and “effectively safeguards against abuse including through the provision of a right of appeal to independent and impartial courts.”

The lack of provisions for judicial oversight in the proposed national security law opens the door for the Angolan government to arbitrarily prosecute and criminally charge media and civil society groups, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Angolan government appears intent on using a broad national security law as a pretext to further undermine people’s rights,” Machado said. “Parliament should act to ensure that the media and civil society can operate free from improper government intervention.”