JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Angola's parliament votes next week on a proposal to imprison for up to 10 years women who have abortions and people who perform them, angering the president's daughter and others in the former Portuguese colony.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are urging authorities to allow a protest Saturday in the capital, Luanda, calling on the country to decriminalize abortion, saying organizers have informed Gov. Higinio Carneiro but received no reply.
"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.
The rights groups' statement released Friday says lawmakers are seeking to replace the country's criminal code that dates to 1886.
The draft code offers no exceptions to the punishments for those who have or perform abortions. Angola's government had proposed exceptions in cases of rape or when the mother's health is in danger, but parliament rejected it, the rights groups said.
Parliament is expected to vote on the criminal code March 23.
Abortion is already illegal in Angola, but the proposed code would change the punishment for it.
The debate over the issue has been vocal in the southern African nation. The president's daughter, Isabel dos Santos, has come out against the proposed punishments, news website Rede Angola reported on Wednesday.
Dos Santos, said to be Africa's richest woman, shared images on her Instagram account that included the phrase "I say no to the criminalization of women," the website reported.
A spokesman for Angola's Catholic community, Manuel Imbamba, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa earlier this week that the church regretted the "banalization" of the issue as protest organizers moved ahead with their plans.
Angola has one of the world's weakest health care systems despite being one of Africa's leading oil producers.
Almost all countries in sub-Saharan Africa allow abortions when the mother is in danger, while 33 percent allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, the Pew Research Center reported in late 2015. Only South Africa and Cape Verde allow abortions for any reason, it said.
Angola faces an important president election in August as President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, has announced he will not run again after 38 years in power.
"Especially as elections approach, authorities should show that they will tolerate dissenting views," said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.