Freedom on the Net
Key Developments: May 2012 - April 2013
- Parliamentary elections held in August 2012 saw the innovative and widespread use of digital media tools that aimed to advance electoral transparency (see Limits on Content).
- An investigative report conducted by an exile news outlet revealed in April 2013 that the Angolan state security services may be planning to implement an electronic monitoring system that could track e-mail and other digital communications, with assistance from Germany (see Violations of User Rights).
- A journalist for the online radio news outlet, Voice of America, was assaulted in December 2012 for his reporting on human rights issues, political violence, and corruption in Angola. The journalist’s e-mail was also hacked (see Violations of User Rights).
- A targeted malware attack was launched against a prominent Angolan writer and blogger in early 2013, purportedly to compromise his communications during an ongoing defamation lawsuit lodged against him (see Violations of User Rights).
Since the end of the Angolan Civil War in 2002 that ravaged the country from its start in 1975, access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) has improved dramatically. Throughout the war, the country’s telecommunications were run primarily by the state under the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola–Labour Party (MPLA), with the party’s Angola Telecom holding a monopoly of the sector. Toward the end of hostilities in 2001, the government began adopting regulations to liberalize the telecom industry, which enabled private investments to revitalize the country’s ICT infrastructure that had been severely damaged by the decades-long conflict. Today, Angola has one of the largest mobile telecom markets in sub-Saharan Africa and internet access is growing steadily.
Despite such improvements that have occurred in tandem with Angola’s phenomenal economic growth since 2002, political rights and civil liberties remain tightly controlled and restricted by the MPLA under President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for over 34 years. Recent parliamentary elections in August 2012 led to a highly flawed vote that kept dos Santos in power, in spite of the unprecedented flurry of social media activity and use of innovative digital media tools that endeavored to combat electoral fraud. Nevertheless, such use of ICTs illustrated the empowering ability of the internet and social media for journalists, activists, and opposition parties who are increasingly turning to digital platforms as a means to sidestep the country’s longstanding restrictions on traditional media.
While there are no administrative or systematic restrictions on ICT content in Angola, the government has indicated its intent to limit internet freedom through legal measures, such as the alarming draft “Law to Combat Crime in the Area of Information Technologies and Communication” introduced by the National Assembly in March 2011. Often referred to as the cybercrime bill, the draft law was ultimately withdrawn in May 2011 as a result of international pressure and vocal objections from civil society. If enacted, however, the new law would have legally empowered the authorities with the ability intercept information from private devices without a warrant and imposed harsh penalties for objectionable speech expressed via ICTs and on social media platforms, among other restrictions.
In 2012 and early 2013, internet freedom in Angola was limited primarily by increasing violations of user rights. For example, in April 2013, a news report revealed that the Angolan intelligence services may be planning to implement an electronic monitoring system that could track e-mail and other digital communications. Violence against journalists typically experienced within the traditional media sphere seeped into the online sphere in December 2012 when a journalist for the online radio news outlet, Voice of America, was assaulted for his reporting on human rights issues, political violence, and corruption in Angola. Meanwhile, technical attacks against independent and critical news websites, blogs, and opposition voices are common.
Access to ICTs in Angola has improved markedly with increasing investments in the telecommunications sector since the end of the country’s civil war in 2002. First introduced in 1996, the internet in Angola reached a penetration rate of 17 percent in 2012, up from just over 3 percent in 2007, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Fixed-line broadband subscriptions, however, remain low with a penetration rate of only 0.16 percent in 2012, and are largely concentrated in the capital city, Luanda, due to the country’s high poverty rate and poor infrastructure in rural areas. By contrast, access to mobile phones is much higher with a penetration rate of 49 percent in 2012.
In addition to infrastructural limitations and widespread poverty characterized by more than 36 percent of Angolans living on less than $2 a day, access to ICTs is further hindered by the country’s fractured electricity system that serves only 30 percent of the population. In rural areas, where more than 58 percent of the poor population lives, less than 10 percent have regular access to electricity. Consequently, radio, television, and print outlets—which are subject to high levels of government interference—remain the primary sources of information for the majority of Angolans.
Luanda is reputed to be the second most expensive city in the world, and for those able to access the internet in urban areas, internet subscriptions start at $50 per month but can cost as high as $100 per month for connections via satellite or WiMax. Unlimited internet subscriptions cost an average of $140, while USB dongle devices that provide wireless access cost between $50 and $60. Mobile internet packages come at a monthly cost of about $45. Already expensive for the vast majority of Angolans, voice and data services in rural areas can be twice as expensive and of much poorer quality, subject to frequent cuts and extremely slow connection speeds. According to the ITU, Angola’s mobile-cellular sub-basket of prices at purchasing power parity (PPP)—which “expresses the price of goods in terms of buying power and adjusts exchange rates to facilitate international comparisons”—was $28 in 2011, while the fixed-broadband sub-basket at PPP was $74. Due to these high prices, most internet users log online at their workplaces.
Angola’s domestic backbone is currently comprised of microwave, VSAT, and fiber-optic cables, while the government’s Master Plan for ICT development envisions connecting the country’s 18 provinces through a national fiber optic-backbone. Connection to the international internet goes through the South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) cable, over which the state-owned Angola Telecom has a monopoly. Angola is also looking to connect to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable and the West Africa Cable System (WACS) in the future, in addition to establishing a submarine cable between Northeastern Brazil and Luanda to reduce the bandwidth costs associated with the distance that internet traffic currently has to travel from Europe and the United States.
According to the telecoms regulator, the Angolan National Institute of Telecommunication (INACOM), there are currently five fixed-line operators in Angola—the state-owned Angola Telecom, Mercury (owned by the state-owned petroleum company, Sonangol), Nexus, Mundo Startel, and Wezacom—while Angola Telecom’s Multitel and a number of smaller private ISPs provide internet services.
Mobile services are provided by two private operators—Movicel and Unitel. Portugal Telecom and state-owned Sonangol each have a 25 percent stake in Unitel. Investigative reports have revealed that the president’s daughter, Isabel Dos Santos, also holds a 25 percent stake in Unitel, in addition to sitting on the telecom provider’s board. Meanwhile, as of 2009, 80 percent of Movicel is split between four private Angolan companies—Portmill Investimentos e Telecomunicações (with 40 percent), Modus Comunicare (19 percent), Ipang–Indústria de Papel e Derivados (10 percent), Lambda (6 percent), and Novatel (5 percent)—while the remainder of Movicel’s capital is held by two state enterprises, Angola Telecom and Empresa Nacional de Correios e Telégrafos de Angola, with 18 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
An ITU profile of the Angolan ICT sector characterizes competition in the international gateway, wireless local loop, and fixed-wired broadband markets as monopolistic; by contrast, it describes the markets for mobile, internet, and DSL services as competitive. Based on research conducted by an independent analyst, however, no real competition exists in the provision of mobile and internet services as most of the companies have shares belonging to senior government officials.
Similar to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, China has emerged as a key investor and contractor in Angola’s telecommunications sector. In 2008, the Angolan government contracted the Chinese telecom ZTE to head the operations of the previously state-owned Movicel, which makes the country’s second largest mobile network highly vulnerable to government interception and interference without oversight, particularly given China’s own reputation for such ICT abuses. Other research accounts report that ZTE has been involved with assisting with the Angolan military’s telecommunication, though in what capacity is unknown. More recently in March 2012, ZTE and Huawei, another major Chinese telecom, were both contracted to develop 4G and LTE networks for Movicel.
Meanwhile in June 2012, the country’s other private mobile operator, Unitel, launched a project in partnership with the education ministry and Huawei to provide free access to the internet for secondary school students in both public and private schools across the country’s 18 provinces. Known as “E-Net,” the project aims to benefit over 18,000 students with computers supplied by Huawei and internet access provided by Unitel.
The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MCT) is responsible for oversight of the ICT sector, while the Angolan Institute for Communications (INACOM), established in 1999, serves as the sector’s regulatory body. Reporting to the MCT, INACOM determines the sector’s regulations and policies, sets prices for telecommunications services, and issues licenses. The regulatory body was set up as an independent public institution with both financial and administrative autonomy from the ministry, though in practice, it has a limited measure of autonomy. According to reports by the ITU and the World Bank, INACOM is not autonomous in its decision making process, in part due to the ministerial appointment of the director general who can be dismissed for any reason. In addition, the MCT has been known to influence staff appointments, while other ministries are often involved in sector policy, leading to politically influenced regulatory decisions.
To date, there have been no known incidents of the government blocking or filtering ICT content in Angola, and there are no restrictions on the type of information that can be exchanged through digital media technologies, aside from child pornography and copyrighted material. Social media and communications apps such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and international blog-hosting services are freely available. In addition, there have been no reported issues of intermediary liability for service or content providers, nor have there been known instances of take-down notices issued for the removal of online content. Nevertheless, according to an independent analyst, the government has been known to deliberately take down its own content when the authorities have wanted to prevent the public from accessing certain government information, such as specific laws.
While there has been no evidence of government efforts to interfere with or manipulate online content, censorship of news and information in the traditional media sphere is common, leading to worries that similar efforts to control the information landscape will eventually affect the internet. The president and members of the ruling MPLA party own and tightly control the most of the country’s media outlets, including those that are the most widely disseminated and accessed. Of the dozen or so privately owned newspapers, most are held by individuals connected to the government.
Self-censorship is commonly practiced by journalists in both state-run and private print outlets. As a result of the limited space for Angola’s independent voices in the traditional media, many writers and readers are increasingly distributing and reading news online. In addition, journalists, bloggers, and internet users have been generally less fearful expressing themselves and discussing controversial topics online than they might be offline. There is more open criticism of the president and ruling party circulating on blogs and social media platforms, though taboo topics related to land grabs, police brutality, and demolitions are often avoided.
Due to the concentration of internet access and use in urban areas and the limited space for critical voices in Angola’s general media sphere, the online information landscape is still lacking in diversity and unable to represent a variety of groups and viewpoints throughout the country. Independent news outlets critical of the government do exist, with Folha8 and Agora being the most prominent, though their audiences are reached primarily through their print publications. Moreover, the economic viability of independent outlets, both online and print, is constrained by the lack of advertising revenue from both state and private sources, since it is often denied to news outlets that publish critical stories.
In recent years, citizens have increasingly taken to the internet as a platform for political debate, to express discontent with the country’s current state of affairs, and to launch digital activism initiatives. Similar to many other African countries, the Angolan youth have embraced social media tools and used them to fuel protest movements across the country. The positive impact of digital media tools in Angola was particularly pronounced during the August 2012 parliamentary elections when ICTs were used in innovative ways to advance electoral transparency. For example, citizens were able to report electoral irregularities in real time on the monitoring website Eleições Angola 2012, while the National Electoral Commission used the internet and iPads to scan voter registration cards. A Gallup poll cited by the African Media Initiative found that the internet and smartphones had eroded the government’s control over news and information, with only 16 percent of polled Angolans giving the president a thumbs-up rating. Nevertheless, the president’s ruling MPLA party still swept the elections with over 70 percent of votes.
In the past year, concerns over state surveillance of ICTs increased when an investigative news report published in April 2013 said that the Angolan intelligence services were planning to implement an electronic monitoring system that could track e-mail and other digital communications, with equipment and expertize from Germany. One case of violence against a journalist for the online news radio site, Voice of America, was assaulted for his critical reporting, while the prominent writer and blogger Rafael Marques de Morais had his personal computer attacked with malware in a purported attempt to compromise his communications during an ongoing defamation lawsuit lodged against him in early 2013.
The Angolan constitution provides for freedom of expression and the press, and in 2006, Angola became one of the first African countries to enact a freedom of information law. In practice, however, accessing government information remains extremely difficult. The judiciary is subject to considerable political influence, with Supreme Court justices appointed to life terms by the president and without legislative oversight; nevertheless, the courts have been known to rule against the government on occasion, including most recently in May 2012 when the court rejected the appointment of the MPLA-favored candidate to head the National Electoral Commission in advance of the August parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, stringent laws regarding state security and insult run counter to constitutional guarantees and hamper media freedom, such as the Article 26 state security law passed in 2010 known as that allows for the detention of individuals who insult the country or president in “public meetings or by disseminating words, images, writings, or sound.” Politicians, on the other hand, are immune. Defamation and libel are crimes punishable by imprisonment. In recent years, a number of journalists in the traditional media sphere have been prosecuted for criminal defamation in lawsuits initiated by government officials, though such actions have not been taken against online journalists or internet users as of yet.
In August 2011, a new Law on Electronic Communications and Services of the Information Society was enacted, which delineated citizens’ rights to privacy and security online, among other provisions related to regulating the telecommunications sector. Despite these acknowledgments, the Angolan government has become increasingly keen on limiting internet freedom through legal measures, as indicated by the alarming Law to Combat Crime in the Area of Information Technologies and Communication introduced by the National Assembly in March 2011. Often referred to as the cybercrime bill, the law was ultimately withdrawn in May 2011 as a result of international pressure and vocal objections from civil society. The new law aimed to limit freedom of expression more harshly online than offline by increasing penalties prescribed for offenses laid out under Angola’s criminal code committed through electronic media. For example, Article 16 of the cybercrime bill increased the penalty for defamation, libel, and slander conducted online over the penalty defined in the criminal code by a third.
If passed, the law also would have empowered the authorities with the ability to intercept information from private devices without a warrant and prosecute individuals for objectionable speech expressed using electronic media tools and on social media platforms. Sending an electronic message interpreted as an effort to “endanger the integrity of national independence or to destroy or influence the functionality of state institutions” would have yielded a penalty of two to eight years in prisons, in addition to fines. The law would have further criminalized the dissemination of any “recordings, pictures and video” of an individual without the subject’s consent, even if produced lawfully, which could have impeded journalists’ ability to report on public protests or instances of police brutality using digital tools. The bill additionally prescribed penalties between 8 and 12 years in prison for espionage and whistle blowing activities, which would have included the act of seeking access to classified information on an electronic system “in order to reveal such information or to help others to do so.” The same penalty was provided for accessing unclassified information that could be deemed as endangering state security.
In an unexpected move, the Angolan government in May 2011 decided to remove the proposed cybercrime legislation from parliament moments before it was due to be voted into law, in large part as a result of widespread opposition and pressure from civil society. However, a government minister publicly stated the same year that special clauses regarding cybercrimes would instead be incorporated into an ongoing revision of the penal code, leaving open the possibility of internet-specific restrictions coming into force in future.
There are no restrictions on anonymous communication such as website or SIM card registration requirements, and to date, there is little evidence that the state illegally monitors and intercepts the electronic communications of its citizens. Nevertheless, an investigative report conducted by the exile news and information outlet Club-K revealed in April 2013 that intelligence and state security services were planning to implement an electronic monitoring system that could track e-mail and other digital communications. According to Club-K, the sophisticated monitoring equipment was imported from Germany and included German technicians who assisted in the system’s installation on a military base in Cape Ledo. The details of Club-K’s findings could not be corroborated as of August 2013.
Meanwhile, there is no concrete evidence of whether or to what extent ICT service providers are required to assist the government in monitoring the communications of their users, though the strong presence of the state in the ownership structure of Angola’s telecoms, particularly of mobile phone operators, suggests that the authorities are likely able to wield their influence over service providers if desired. Cybercafes, however, are not known to be subject to such requirements.
Attacks and extralegal violence against journalists in the traditional media sphere are unfortunately common in Angola, and these actions may become more common against online journalists and social media users as the internet increasingly becomes an empowering tool for citizens to vocalize discontent and mobilize against the government. One case of violence against Antonio Capalandanda, a journalist for the online news and radio site Voice of America, was reported in May 2012, when the journalist was approached by an individual who identified himself as a state security agent and threatened to harm Capalandanda if he continued to report on topics the government deemed objectionable. Known for his reporting on human rights issues, political violence, and corruption in Angola, Capalandanda was later assaulted in December 2012 by two unidentified assailants who also stole his camera, voice recorder, and notepads. In January 2013, Capalandanda’s e-mail account was hacked by an unknown entity.
Independent and exile news websites have also been subject to technical violence such as hacking and denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, particularly during periods of political contestation. For example, at the height of anti-government protests in February 2011, the website of the independent outlet Club-K was met with frequent interruptions to the point of temporary disablement. The popular blog Maka Angola, produced by the renowned critical writer Rafael Marques de Morais, was also subject to a number of targeted DDoS attacks in 2011. More recently in early 2013, Morais’s personal computer was attacked with customized malware, purportedly to compromise his communications during an ongoing defamation lawsuit lodged against him for his 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola.
 Characterized by an average annual GDP growth rate of nearly 12 percent. See, Estefania Jover et al., “Angola, Private Sector Country Profile,” African Development Bank, September 2012, http://bit.ly/14Y27HZ.
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 Rafael Marques de Morais, “The Angolan Presidency: The Epicentre of Corruption,” Maka Angola (blog), accessed August 30, 2013, https://wikileaks.org/gifiles/attach/169/169476_Ao100805.pdf.
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 Roselyn Hseuh and Michael Byron Nelson, “Who Wins? China Wires Africa: The Cases of Angola and Nigeria,” paper prepared for presentation at NYU/Giessen Development Finance Conference, NYU School of Law, April 9, 2013, http://iilj.org/newsandevents/documents/hsueh.pdf.
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 “Angola: Defamation Laws Silence Journalists,” Human Rights Watch.