Letters   |   Angola

CPJ concerned about recent decline in press freedom

July 17, 2001

President José Eduardo dos Santos
Gabinete da Presidencia da Republica
Luanda, Angola

VIA FAX: 244-2-392733/ 391476/ 331898

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the latest deterioration in Angolan press freedom. While Angolan journalists have long faced official hostility and harassment, CPJ has documented a deplorable surge in government interference with the independent press in recent weeks.

Such actions create a hostile atmosphere for Angola's small community of independent journalists and violate their fundamental right to gather and disseminate news, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On July 7, Gilberto Neto, a reporter for the independent weekly Folha 8, was arrested at the airport in the northern province of Malanje, according to sources in Luanda. Neto was traveling with Phillipe Lebillon, a researcher from the London-based Overseas Development Institute, who was also arrested.

As soon as local authorities learned that a Folha 8 reporter and a foreign researcher were in the province, they assigned security agents to follow them, Angolan sources reported. On July 6, the provincial governor's spokesperson told Neto and Lebillon that they were prohibited from continuing their work because they had not received authorization from provincial governor Flávio Fernandes.

Two police officers escorted Neto and Lebillon on the airplane back to Luanda, where they were taken to the National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC). The two were interrogated for an hour and accused of traveling illegally to Malanje. The police confiscated their passports, Neto's press accreditation, and several pieces of equipment including a tape recorder, a camera, notebooks, and film. Neto and Lebillon were obliged to report to the DNIC for at least two more interrogations over the next few days.

The harassment of Neto and Lebillon conforms to a pattern endured by provincial journalists in Angola, which CPJ has repeatedly protested. During two CPJ meetings with Vice Minister of Social Communications Manuel Augusto, in October 2000 and May 2001, we particularly noted the persecution of journalists in Malanje and Kwanza-Norte provinces, whose respective governors frequently abuse their administrative powers to punish journalists for their reporting. The case of Neto and Lebillon demonstrates that our concerns remain as valid today as when we raised them during a CPJ mission to Luanda nine months ago.

During the last week, several other independent journalists have encountered interference while attempting to cover the government's forced relocation of residents from the Boavista district of Luanda. Free-lance journalist Rafael Marques and BBC correspondent Justin Pearce were repeatedly prevented from interviewing and photographing at the scene of the relocation, and both reporters were threatened while trying to do their jobs. On July 13, local police detained Marques for approximately one hour in the town of Viana, where a number of journalists and officials were visiting a resettlement camp for Boavista families.

Journalists from the independent, Luanda-based Rádio Ecclésia also met with official resistance while trying to report on the evacuation. On July 10, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, officials barred reporter Alexandre Cose from entering the Viana resettlement camp. Radio Ecclésia claimed that Cose was clearly singled out because he worked for the private radio station, noting that a journalist from the state media was allowed entry.

The government daily Jornal de Angola has also gone out of its way to attack Radio Ecclésia on several occasions. In a July 3 column titled "The Voice of Subversion," for example, the station was accused of serving as a mouthpiece for the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA); of inciting anti-social behavior; and of working to topple the Angolan government.

On July 8, Radio Ecclésia suspended its news broadcasts for two days, airing music instead. The station said this was an internal decision taken for reasons of "restructuring." Local sources, however, believe it was also a symbolic response to attacks from the state media. On July 11, Radio Ecclésia came back on the air, reaffirming its commitment to providing "unbiased, reliable, and truthful" news coverage. "We will not give in to pressure, from whatever quarter, nor to blackmail, nor defamation, nor inflammatory and hateful articles," the station said in a statement issued that same day. "Nothing will change us."

CPJ is gravely concerned about this marked downturn in official respect for the rights of journalists in Angola. By persecuting journalists and hindering their professional work, your government is depriving Angolan citizens of their right to be informed on matters of clear public interest. We urge Your Excellency to ensure that Radio Ecclésia is free to broadcast the news, and that all independent journalists in Angola may gather and circulate news without fear of repression.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

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