Urging the Angolan government to withdraw cybercrime bill before parliament, Human Rights Watch said it would undercut both freedom of expression and information, and pose a severe threat to independent media in the country.
The Human Rights Watch expressed its apprehension that the bill would help security forces to confiscate data and create harsher penalties for crimes in electronic information technology.
Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said, This bill fails to establish clear safeguards to protect the public's right to know and right to speak and deepening the existing restrictions in Angola's media environment, where many Angolans have turned for open debate on matters the government wants to restrict.
The information technology crime bill law draft was passed n March 31, 2011by the Angolan parliament. The bill was approved as part of a package of laws regulating information technology and data protection.
In April, a group of journalist and civic activists expressed their concern about the bill in a submission to parliament. The government failed to address these concerns but presented minor amendments on May 9. Human Rights Watch is concerned that parliament may send the law to the president for his signature next week without any public debate.
To circumvent the long-standing restrictions on traditional print and visual media, many journalists, activists, and opposition parties in the country are using internet as their source, which was resented by the government.
President Eduardo dos Santos in a speech on April 14 claimed that the internet was being used insult, degrade, and provoke uproar and confusion. The speech shows that the bill does not aim at internet crime but at clamping down on political speech and organizing through the electronic media.
The bill is also part of a broader pattern of restrictions on fundamental freedom. In December 2010, Human Rights Watch showed its concern over the revised state security crime law, which, among other provisions, criminalizes insulting the president.
In March, Human Rights Watch recognized that the ruling party intimidation campaign may discourage people from joining an anti-government demonstration that had been called via internet.
“The bill passed without proper public debate could hamper fundamental freedom protected in Angola’s 2010 constitution,” Bekele said. This does not serve the interests of a government seeking international respectability, particularly in view of upcoming 2012 elections.