Angola: One of Africa’s worse press freedom offenders

January 13, 2000

His Excellency José Eduardo dos Santos
President of the Republic of Angola
Gabinete da Presidencia da Republica
Luanda, Angola

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

Your Excellency:

Ahead of the United Nations Security Council open briefing on Angola, scheduled to take place in New York on January 18, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wishes once again to express its deep concern over the deteriorating press freedom situation in Angola.

Over the past year, Your Excellency’s government has been among Africa’s worst offenders against press freedom. The ongoing criminal defamation case against free-lance journalist Rafael Marques, highlighted by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke during his recent visit to Angola, is just one example of this. Marques faces up to two years in prison if found guilty by the Luanda Supreme Court of defaming Your Excellency in an article which described you as a “dictator.” Marques, who was arrested on October 16, 1999, and spent 41 days in jail without charge, is currently barred from leaving the country while he awaits a trial date.

Throughout 1999, CPJ has written repeatedly to Your Excellency and members of your government to protest the press freedom situation in Angola. Ever since the breakdown of the Lusaka Protocol peace accords led to a resumption of the civil war at the end of 1998, Your Excellency’s government repeatedly warned of a crackdown on allegedly “unpatriotic” journalists and those who “incited treason.” At the same time there was a marked increase in both the frequency and the seriousness of reported attacks on journalists in the country. Among the most serious abuses documented by CPJ during the past year are the following:

  • At the beginning of 1999, the Angolan government issued a memo via state media effectively ordering a news ban on coverage of the civil war. The independent media largely ignored the ban, and as a result was accused by the state press of “facilitating” the efforts of the rebel UNITA movement.
  • On January 11, 1999, two journalists with the independent Radio Morena in Benguela, Jose Cabral Sande and Jose Manuel Alberto, were arrested following the re-broadcast of a news program from Portuguese state television that featured an interview with a UNITA official.
  • On March 1, the Ministry of Social Communication issued a statement that criminalized press coverage of draft evasion. In subsequent weeks there were at least two attacks on Angolan journalists who attempted to cover draft evasion. In early April, editor William Tonet of the independent newspaper Folha 8 was harassed in connection with articles in his newspaper that the authorities viewed as inciting young men to evade military service. And on April 29, an Angolan soldier attacked Voice of America reporter Josefa Lamberga while she was researching a story on draft evasion.
  • On June 1, the Minister of Social Communication, Hendrik Vaal Neto, threatened the independent Angolan press with closure if it did not support the government’s war effort against Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA rebel movement. The minister described the independent press as “supporting Savimbi’s propaganda.” He reiterated that certain local news reports were “unpatriotic” and that they effectively incited young men to disregard military conscription. In a June 23 letter to CPJ, the minister assured us that the June 1 statement was merely intended “to remind the bad, less competent and insidious journalists that they should carry out their profession with respect and within the parameters established by law,” and that the government of Angola had never intended to “harass any journalist or shut down the private media.” The minister’s assurances notwithstanding, independent journalists continued to be subjected to ever more brutal repression.
  • On August 9, police raided the studios of Radio Ecclesia, a Roman Catholic FM station in Luanda, while the station was re-broadcasting a BBC interview with UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi. Police arrested a total of nine journalists in connection with the Savimbi interview. The authorities then forced Radio Ecclesia to sign an agreement that it would not refer to Jonas Savimbi or UNITA on the air without prior permission from the government. Radio Ecclesia was accused of having violated “the internal and external security of the state” under Angola’s notorious Law 7/78, also known as the Law on Crimes against State Security. This law clearly violates Article 35 of the 1992 Angolan Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. However, the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court in Angola means that Law 7/78 cannot be challenged at this time.
  • Between August 19 and September 6, at least seven journalists in various parts of Angola were interrogated as the authorities stepped up its campaign to deter reporting on the civil war. And on August 31, journalist Mauricio Cristovao, of the Radio 5 sports channel on the state-owned Radio Nacional de Angola, was killed by unidentified gunmen in Lusaka. The motive for the killing is still unclear, but various Angolan journalists said they believed Cristovao’s killing was directly connected to the government’s threats against the local press.
  • The October 4 arrest of Folha 8 editor William Tonet was one of numerous incidents in an apparent government campaign to silence the journalist and his newspaper. While he was ostensibly arrested and detained for two days in connection with import duty violations, many observers believe the real reason was political, and aimed at intimidating him.
    As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ is greatly alarmed by these attempts to restrict press freedom. These infringements violate the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, to all of which, we respectfully remind Your Excellency, the Republic of Angola is a signatory.

    CPJ therefore strongly urges that Your Excellency do everything in your power to ensure that criminal defamation charges against Rafael Marques are dropped; that you publicly acknowledge that “national security” should never be used as an excuse to imprison, attack or harass journalists; that you ensure that journalists be allowed to report freely on the Angolan conflict without fear of reprisal; that you instruct the police and security forces to stop attacking and harassing journalists; and that you order a review of unconstitutional legislation that is used to obstruct press freedom in Angola.

    Since international attention will soon be focused on Angola as a result of the special meeting of the UN Security Council, we trust you will agree that it would be in Your Excellency’s best interests to demonstrate a commitment to democratic rule and good governance by publicly addressing these press freedom issues.

    We would welcome your comments.


    Ann K. Cooper
    Executive Director