(Johannesburg) – The Angolan government must allow protesters to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today, ahead of a planned demonstration in Luanda for a woman’s right to have an abortion.

A general view of Luanda, Angola, where organizers are planning a demonstration for women’s right to have an abortion on March 18, 2017. 

© 2014 Reuters

The protest, scheduled for March 18, 2017, is in response to the new draft penal code currently before parliament, which punishes, without exceptions, those who have or perform an abortion with up to 10 years in prison.

“We have often seen Angolan police use unnecessary and excessive force against peaceful demonstrators,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa.

Parliament approved an amendment on abortion on February 24, as part of the process of replacing Angola’s penal code from the 1886 colonial-era version. The government had proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion, except in cases of rape, or when the mother’s health is in danger. But parliament rejected that proposal and made abortion, without exceptions, illegal. The final vote on the draft penal code is slated for March 23.

Under the current penal code, abortion is also illegal. The organizers of the protest want the new code to end the ban on abortions. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call for the decriminalization of abortion in all circumstances.

The protest organizers informed the Office of the Governor of Luanda Province, Gen. Higinio Carneiro, of their intention to march at 10 a.m. Central African Time from Santa Ana Cemetery to the Heroines Monument (Largo das Heroinas). As of March 17, the group had not received a reply.

“The right to protest is protected both under the constitution and international law, so the Angolan authorities have a duty to ensure that these protesters can march freely and without any intimidation,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Especially as elections approach, authorities should show that they will tolerate dissenting views.”