The following is a copy of a letter received by CPJ from the Angolan Minister of Social Communications, Pedro Hendrik Vaal Neto, written in Luanda on June 23, 1999. The translation is an unofficial one, done by the Angolan Embassy in Washington DC:
Ms. Ann K. Cooper
Committee to Protect Journalists
Dear Ms. Cooper,
Your letter of 9 June, addressed to the President of the Republic of Angola, has been brought to my attention. I will reply personally and begin by thanking you for your concern regarding the safety of our journalists in the private press.
Constitutional Law, on which our state is based, defines the Republic of Angola as a democratic state of law and guarantees in its articles the freedom of expression to all citizens, and consequently freedom of the press.
In order to clarify this fundamental right, the Press Law and other laws exist. These laws form the foundation of which not just the means of communication of the state, but also the independent press, organize themselves and to which they owe respect and obedience.
Despite the situation and exceptional circumstance in which the country is living, newly immersed in a bloody conflict generated by the warmonger Jonas Savimbi, the state and the Government of the Republic of Angola have never intended to harass any journalist or shut down the private media. They understand that, as much as possible, the hard won liberties, rights and guarantees achieved by the Angolan people through democratic means must be maintained.
After more than a decade of democracy, it has been shown that, even in war, the Government declared no state of emergency or exceptional circumstance, and no journalists can be found in any Angolan prisons who have justly or unjustly been condemned and arrested for having published writings or reports.
Journalists, as the citizens that they are, receive from the state and its institutions the same legal treatment given to other citizens. They also have obligations and duties, by which their activities at no time may operate outside the law or place in danger the security and integrity of the Angolan state.
In no part of the world should freedom of the press be confused with anarchy, lack of respect for citizens of the state, violation of laws or disobedience. Journalism, which we understand to be a noble profession, cannot tolerate lies, attacks against personal dignity, libel or unfounded rumors. This applies above all when such rumours sow seeds of panic and insecurity in the hearts of the populace.
All that which, under the cloak of being a journalist, one judges to be the right to freely attack any citizen or institution, should be considered knowing that citizens and institutions have, in the same manner, the right to defend themselves. They may choose to clarify, respond to journalists or process them in court. This can be done without such action necessarily being considered as a threat to their liberty or an attempt against democratic principles that govern our society.
What we have done, and that is what took place during my recent interview referenced in your letter, is merely to remind the bad, less competent and insiduous journalists that they should carry out their profession with respect and within the parameters established by law.
We regret that, through violence and audacious statements contained in certain texts of some journalists, it can be seen that their objective is to force the Government to react against them. In this way, they seek to tarnish the image of the Government by joining forces with institutions such as yours in accusing it of trampling the principles that govern a democracy.
The Angolan government has never demanded that any journalist support it, or that the Government would oppose that person. I think that in the democratic state in which we live, its options and positions should be dictated by the consequences.
In conclusion, we need to reiterate that, on the one hand continuing to guarantee to the entire Angolan nation a totally democratic regime, the Angolan Government cannot on the other hand abdicate its responsibility to denounce publicly the prevaricators of law – even if they are journalists.
If revealing military secrets and inciting draft age young men to disobedience is a crime, those who are involved will be subject to the consequences as determined by the law.
Pedro Hendrik Vaal Neto
Minister of Social Communications
Luanda, 23 June 1999
cc: All individuals who received a copy of the CPJ letter to the Government of Angola