Angolan soldiers parade at the swearing-in of President Joao Lourenco in 2017.
Angolan soldiers parade at the swearing-in of President Joao Lourenco after his first election victory in 2017. Angola’s proposed national security law will allow the military and other security agencies to prohibit radio broadcasts or disrupt telecommunication services under undefined ‘exceptional circumstances.’ (Reuters/Stephen Eisenhammer)

CPJ: Angola’s proposed national security law threatens press freedom, puts journalists at risk

New York, April 1, 2024–Angola’s proposed national security law could hinder the public’s right to information and severely undermine press freedom, further exposing journalists to harassment, intimidation, and censorship by authorities, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Monday.

The National Security Bill, which critics say threatens Angola’s democracy and could turn the country into a dictatorship, is currently under review by a specialist committee after passing a first vote in the country’s National Assembly on January 25. No date has been announced for the finalization of the review and resubmission of the bill for a final parliamentary vote before being sent for presidential signature.

“If passed into law, Angola’s National Security Bill will expose journalists to further harassment and intimidation by authorities and legalize telecommunications shutdowns at the whim of security agencies,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ Africa program coordinator, from Nairobi. “The provisions citing constitutional limits to the exercise of power cannot disguise this law’s repressive intent. Parliamentarians should reject or revise any bill that doesn’t comply with international human rights standards.”

According to a copy of the bill reviewed by CPJ, the proposed law will create a national security system headed by the president—and including the police, intelligence services, and the military—with the power to “[prohibit] broadcasting from public or private radio systems” or disrupt telecommunication services, under undefined “exceptional circumstances” and “within the limits of the constitution.”

The proposed law would also give police the autonomy to surveil “premises, buildings and establishments” and “means of transport” as well as temporarily close public premises or prohibit the movement of people “whose activity is likely to disturb public order” for unspecified amounts of time. It does not make specific provisions for judicial oversight of these “preventative” national security measures, outline procedures for security personnel to seek warrants for surveillance activities, or define the activities that would be deemed disruptive to public order. 

Teixeira Cândido, secretary general of the Union of Angolan Journalists, told CPJ via messaging app that provisions giving security organs the power to disrupt telecommunications and shut down the internet “for no apparent reason” could make journalistic work “impossible.” 

David Boio, owner of online news website Camunda News, which suspended operations indefinitely in 2023 due to police harassment, said that the proposed law would provide authorities the missing “legal frame” needed to “justify their actions against critics.”

“The bill is as invasive as possible with authorities allowed to legally put journalists and anyone under surveillance, bug their home, their car without the intervention of a judge, everything at the discretion and mercy of the repressive apparatus itself,” Boio told CPJ via messaging app.  

Florindo Chivucute, president of the human rights group Friends of Angola, told CPJ that the proposed national security law fits within a pattern of repressive legislation, including a Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) bill under consideration by the National Assembly. André Mussamo, president of the Angola chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) told CPJ MISA Angola and other media freedom NGOs could face “extinction” by government directive if the proposed NGO law was approved.

Reached by telephone, National Assembly Secretary-General Pedro Neri declined to comment on the proposed security legislation and referred CPJ to António Paulo, president of the first parliamentary specialist committee that is reviewing the bill. Paulo declined to comment on either the national security or NGO bills, saying that he wanted to “avoid influencing the [review] process” but that he welcomed civil society contributions during the process. Adão de Almeida, Minister of the State and Civil House of the President, didn’t reply to CPJ phone calls or messages.