December 12, 2000
His Excellency José Eduardo dos Santos
President of the Republic of Angola
Gabinete da Presidencia da Republica
VIA FAX: 011.244.2.392733/ 391476/ 331898
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly protests your government's continued harassment of journalist Rafael Marques, who was refused the right to leave the country this morning despite official assurances, and a signed court order, stating clearly that all travel restrictions against him had been lifted.
According to Marques, immigration officials at the airport in Luanda today not only denied him the right to travel, but also confiscated his passport and sent him home without explanation.
This harassment is the result of Marques' conviction earlier this year on charges that he defamed you in an article critical of your government that appeared in a July 1999 issue of the private weekly Agora. This case was one of several raised by a six-member CPJ delegation that visited Luanda in early October and met with Angolan officials, including Vice Minister for Social Communications Manuel Augusto, to raise concerns about repressive measures against the Angolan media.
Last week, a member of the CPJ delegation, Alex Vines of Human Rights Watch, returned to Luanda and met again with Vice Minister Augusto to follow up on issues raised during CPJ's October visit. In a December 6 meeting with Vines, Augusto said Marques was "free to come and go as he pleases."
Two days later, on December 8, Judge Joaquim Cangato signed a Luanda provincial court order lifting all travel restrictions against Marques and two other journalists, Aguiar dos Santos and Antonio Freitas. Marques received a copy of the order on December 11 and took it the airport, where it was stamped by an immigration official who indicated that Marques would have no problem traveling outside of Angola.
This morning, Marques returned to the airport with the court order, his passport, and an airline ticket to South Africa, where he was scheduled to attend a meeting this week of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. According to Marques, he had already cleared airport check-in and customs procedures when an immigration official, Sirmino Somazie, took him to an office and told him there was a problem. After some time, Marques was informed that he could not leave the country after all. He was told to go home and his passport was not returned to him. He was not given a receipt for his passport.
This morning's actions against Marques are particularly disturbing because they appear to contradict assurances, given by Angolan officials to CPJ during its October visit to Luanda, that the government would work to reverse policies that restrict the media and punish journalists for reporting the news and expressing opinions.
CPJ demands that your government immediately return the passport of Rafael Marques, allow him to leave the country on his planned trip to South Africa, and clarify publicly that there are no travel restrictions on Marques or other journalists.
We also strongly urge you to take further actions toward easing restrictions on the media, as outlined in the October 4 statement released in Luanda by the CPJ delegation.
We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters, and await your response.
Ann K. Cooper