Ana da Silva Miguel, a well-known social media influencer in Angola, popularly known as Neth Nahara, has had her prison sentence increased from six months to two years for allegedly “insulting” President João Lourenço on TikTok. This harsh decision by an appeals court exemplifies the growing crackdown on freedom of speech and expression in Angola.
Ms Miguel, a vocal critic of President Lourenço and his administration, used her TikTok account to express concerns about what she saw as “anarchy and disorganisation” in the country. She blamed the president for various issues, including a shortage of schools, housing, and jobs. Her online activism garnered a significant following, amplifying her message of discontent.
President Lourenço, who secured re-election for a second term in August, represents the MPLA party, which has maintained power since Angola’s independence in 1975. Over the years, the MPLA has faced accusations of running a repressive regime that suppresses dissent and restricts fundamental freedoms.
The appeals court in Luanda justified the severe sentence by citing two factors. First, Ms. Miguel’s alleged use of offensive language against the president was seen as a serious transgression. Second, the court emphasised her significant influence on public opinion, viewing her as a potent force shaping the national discourse.
Despite Ms. Miguel’s plea for leniency as a first-time offender and a mother of young children who deeply regretted her remarks, the court remained unmoved. Shockingly, it ordered her to pay President Lourenço $1,200 (£1,000) for purportedly damaging his reputation, setting a troubling precedent for silencing critical voices.
With over 230,000 TikTok followers and a substantial viewership for her videos, Ms. Miguel now holds the unfortunate distinction of being the first person in Angola to be convicted for content posted on TikTok, according to her legal counsel. This verdict not only underscores the suppression of freedom of expression but also raises serious concerns about digital rights and online activism in Angola.
Unfortunately, avenues for legal recourse are limited, as appeals to the Supreme Court are only permitted for sentences exceeding three years. This restriction further narrows the space for individuals to challenge such disproportionate penalties for expressing their opinions.
This case serves as a stark reminder to the international community that the fight for democracy and civil liberties continues in regions where voices of dissent face perilous consequences for speaking out. The protection of fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech, must be a priority, and calls for such protections in Angola should not go unheeded.