Attacks on the Press 1999: Angola

In late 1998, the breakdown of the 1994 Lusaka peace accords led to the resumption of a brutal civil war that has killed more than half a million Angolans and devastated the country’s economy. Since then there has been a marked increase in the frequency and seriousness of reported press freedom violations in Angola.

At the beginning of January, the government effectively imposed a news blackout on coverage of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). In a memo disseminated via state media, the Ministry of Social Communications said Angolan journalists should not even refer to the war, although state media continued to issue reports that minimized government setbacks and characterized UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi as a war criminal.

While some independent journalists were cowed, others tried to cover both sides of the story. This resulted in an editorial in the government-owned Jornal de Angola that accused independent media of “facilitating” UNITA’s fight with the government.

Shortly afterward, on January 11, two journalists with the independent Radio Morena in Benguela were arrested after the station re-broadcast a Portuguese state television interview with a UNITA official.

On March 1, the Ministry of Social Communications banned reporting on draft evasion. “Publishing news and broadcasting radio programs inciting young people to evade the military draft. . .constitutes a grave violation of the press law, of the military law, and of other ordinary laws of the country, making their perpetrators liable to sanctions of the law,” the statement said. “Those who insist on prevaricating face the sanction of the law including, among others, the cancellation of the license to publish and withdrawal of the license to broadcast.”

On April 3, William Tonet, editor of the independent newspaper Folha 8, was interrogated by state security officers in connection with articles in his newspaper that allegedly incited young men to evade military duty. On April 29, Voice of America reporter Josefa Lamberga was assaulted by an Angolan army corporal while researching an article on draft evasion.

On June 1, Minister of Social Communications Hendrik Vaal Neto threatened to shut down independent media that failed to support the government’s war effort against the UNITA rebel movement. The minister accused the independent press of “supporting Savimbi’s propaganda,” characterized certain news reports as “unpatriotic,” and claimed that they effectively incited young men to avoid conscription.

CPJ protested Neto’s comments in a June 4 letter to President José Eduardo dos Santos. In a response to CPJ dated June 23, the minister said the purpose of his June 1 statement was “merely 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.”

Meanwhile, the independent press experienced 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 rebroadcasting a BBC interview with Savimbi. Police arrested a total of nine journalists in connection with this broadcast. The authorities then forced Radio Ecclesia to sign an agreement stating 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 present.

Between August 19 and September 6, police interrogated at least seven journalists in various parts of Angola as the government stepped up its campaign to deter independent reporting on the civil war. In late September, however, there were signs that the government might moderate its generally hostile attitude toward independent journalism in Angola. On September 23, Attorney General Domingos Culolo issued a statement recognizing “the value and benefit of the press in a democratic state” and praising the role of the press in “the permanent fight against all forms of illegalities in general and crime in particular.”

Culolo said his office would “continue to guarantee legality in general and from that perspective. . .will maintain its role in the prosecution of fraudulent and negligent violations of the juridical norms in force, including abuses of authority and the press.”

The statement followed a meeting between Attorney General Culolo and the secretary general of the Angolan Union of Journalists, Avelino Miguel. During the meeting, Miguel stressed that working conditions for journalists in Angola had deteriorated in recent months.

Despite Culolo’s encouraging response, Angolan journalists continued to be harassed and intimidated for doing their jobs. The October 4 arrest of Folha 8 editor William Tonet was one of many incidents in an apparent government campaign to silence Tonet and his newspaper for daring to cover Savimbi and UNITA. Nor were Angolan media observers encouraged by the case of freelance journalist Rafael Marques, who was detained on October 14 and held without charge until late November after publishing an article in which he characterized President dos Santos as a dictator.

January 11
Jose Manuel Alberto, Radio Morena HARASSED
Jose Cabral Sande, Radio Morena HARASSED

Alberto and Sande, director and administrator, respectively, of the independent radio station Radio Morena in Benguela, were arrested shortly after the station rebroadcast a news program from Radio Televisão Portuguesa in which an official of the rebel movement Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) claimed that UNITA had taken partial control of Huambo Province.

The two were held at a local police station on charges of disobedience and offenses against the head of state. Although they appeared in court on January 12, they were released owing to insufficient evidence.

April 6
William Tonet, Folha 8 HARASSED

Tonet, editor of the independent newspaper Folha 8, was interrogated for several hours at the Criminal Investigation Department in Luanda. The military attorney’s office had earlier alleged that certain articles published in Folha 8 had insulted the Angolan government and incited young men to evade military duty. There were no formal charges, but an investigating officer accused Tonet of jeopardizing state security and pressured him to reveal his sources.

April 28
Josefa Lamberga, Voice of America ATTACKED

Lamberga, a reporter with the Luanda bureau of the Voice of America (VOA), was assaulted by a corporal of the Angolan armed forces. She was denied entry into a military training recruiting center in Luanda while attempting to report on draft evasion by Angolan citizens.

Lamberga returned to her vehicle but was prevented from driving away by an unidentified soldier who ordered her out of the car. The soldier complained about her reports in local media and on VOA, which aired the views of draftees claiming that white and mulatto citzens often use wealth or political connections to avoid military service. The corporal then struck Lamberga twice in the face.

CPJ protested the attack in a letter sent the next day to President José Eduardo dos Santos.

May 5
Joaquim Alves, Actual Fax ATTACKED

Alves, a journalist with the independent weekly newspaper Actual Fax, was assaulted and beaten near his Luanda home by three armed individuals, one of whom allegedly wore an Angolan army uniform.

It is believed that the attack happened in response to an April article in which Alves described a prominent local businessman as a supporter of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebel forces. UNITA has been fighting a civil war against the Angolan government since the country became independent from Portugal in November 1975.

May 13
Lara Pawson, BBC/Reuters ATTACKED

A group of unidentified men assaulted Luanda-based BBC and Reuters correspondent Pawson outside a restaurant in the Angolan capital. The attack is thought to have come in response to reports by Pawson that the Angolan government was diverting civilian food aid to its own soldiers. Pawson suffered no serious injuries.

May 14
Herculano Coroado Bumba, Radio TSF HARASSED

Two men who introduced themselves as members of the Angolan special security forces illegally searched the residence of Bumba, an Angola-born correspondent for Radio TSF, a Portuguese station.

Using the pretext that they were “looking for arms,” but lacking an official search warrant, the two state agents forced their way into Bumba’s house. They found no arms or other evidence against Bumba, who had been receiving anonymous phone threats in connection with his coverage of Angolan politics.

May 17
Machado Irmao,

Men driving a police van and wearing official police uniforms stopped and beat up Irmao, a regular contributor to the independent weekly Actual, while he and a friend were driving around the capital, Luanda. During the attack, Irmao’s assailants reportedly called him “one of the journalists writing bad stories about the government.” They also suggested that he “keep his mouth shut” in future.

Fearing for his life, Irmao went into hiding for nearly two weeks.

July 2
Televisão Publica de Angola ATTACKED
Radio Televisão Portuguesa HARASSED

A group of plainclothes police officers accosted two television crews, one from the Angolan station Televisão Publica de Angola (TPA) and the other from the Portuguese station Radio Televisão Portuguesa (RTP) in Luanda.

The two crews, each consisting of one reporter and one cameraman, were filming a gunfight between police and armed robbers when they were themselves stopped at gunpoint and forced to surrender their cameras.

The RTP journalists reported that the police officers forced them to kneel on the ground and threatened them violently. The TPA crew was beaten and kicked.

August 9
Radio Ecclesia CENSORED
Paulo Juliao, Radio Ecclesia HARASSED
Laurinda Tavares, Radio Ecclesia HARASSED
Filipe Joaquim, Radio Ecclesia HARASSED
Antonio Jaka, Radio Ecclesia HARASSED
Emanuel da Mata, Radio Ecclesia HARASSED
Reginaldo da Silva, BBC HARASSED
Televisão Publica de Angola HARASSED

Four plainclothes police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (DNIC) raided the studios of Radio Ecclesia, a Roman Catholic FM station in the capital, Luanda, while the station was rebroadcasting a BBC interview with UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

The police officers, who displayed search and arrest warrants, seized the BBC interview tape and Radio Ecclesia’s transmission equipment. They then arrested chief editor Juliao and two other staff journalists, Tavares and Joaquim. The three men were held at DNIC headquarters for about four hours and interrogated separately. They were accused of “disseminating dangerous information” and “threatening public security” and were questioned about their political views.

The next day, Radio Ecclesia again broadcast the Savimbi interview, during the midday news program. DNIC officers subsequently rearrested Juliao, together with station director Jaka and da Mata, another staff journalist. The DNIC accused Radio Ecclesia of violating “the internal and external security of the state” under Angola’s Law 7/78, also known as the Law on Crimes against State Security.

BBC journalist da Silva was detained for questioning on August 10 for having provided a tape of the interview to Radio Ecclesia. Police later seized a second recording from da Silva’s house. Three journalists with the Angolan state television network (Televisão Publica de Angola) were also interrogated on August 10 because their network had rebroadcast the same Savimbi interview.

All the journalists were released later that day. However, authorities forced Radio Ecclesia to sign an agreement stating that it would not refer to Jonas Savimbi or UNITA on the air without prior permission from the government.

CPJ protested the government’s harassment of Radio Ecclesia in an August 16 letter to Hendrik Vaal Neto, the minister of Social Communications.

August 19
Isaias Soares, Voice of America HARASSED

Police officers arrested Soares, a reporter for the Voice of America (VOA) radio network, in the city of Malange, east of the capital, Luanda. The arrest followed a report by Soares alleging that some of the state security forces, including elements of the Angolan national police and the Angolan armed forces, were diverting humanitarian-relief supplies brought by the United Nations World Food Program and intended for the displaced civilian population.

After the arrest, VOA reported that Soares’ life might be in danger. He was released later the same day.

August 23
Anicete dos Santos, Voice of America (VOA) HARASSED
Abel Abrao, Radio Televisão Portuguesa (RTP)HARASSED
Florentino Setila, Luanda Antenna Commercial (LAC) HARASSED

Police detained dos Santos, Abrao, and Setila, reporters for the Voice of America, Radio Televisão Portuguesa, and Luanda Antenna Commercial radio networks, respectively, in Kuito, a strategic highland city about 350 miles southeast of the capital, Luanda.

The three journalists were detained after they broadcast reports on a recent UNITA rebel attack against Kuito. All three were released later that day.

August 30
Paulo Juliao, Radio Ecclesia HARASSED

Agents of the Criminal Investigation Department (DNIC) interrogated Juliao, chief editor of the Roman Catholic FM station Radio Ecclesia, for more than three hours in the capital, Luanda.

The authorities were concerned about a recent article in the independent biweekly newspaper Folha 8 entitled “Government Closes Ecclesia.” The article quoted unnamed Radio Ecclesia sources on the arrest of five journalists at the radio station on August 9, following the rebroadcast of an interview with UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

Juliao was among those arrested on August 9. The DNIC agents wanted him to reveal the names of the Radio Ecclesia employees who were quoted in the story. Juliao apparently refused to name the sources.

September 3
Gilberto Neto, Folha 8 HARASSED

Neto, a journalist for the independent biweekly newspaper Folha 8, was detained for 12 hours by police in the capital, Luanda. The police interrogated Neto about a recent article in the newspaper entitled “Government Closes Ecclesia,” referring to the August 9 police raid on Radio Ecclesia and the arrest of five journalists there.

Three days earlier, Paulo Juliao, chief editor of Radio Ecclesia, had been interrogated by police in connection with the same article. Police wanted Neto to reveal his sources. When he refused, they dragged him to a police cell, where he was left for three hours and then released.

On September 6, police once again summoned Neto and interrogated him in connection with the same article. He was questioned for about half an hour, then left in a police cell for another 90 minutes before being released.

September 7
Radio Ecclesia HARASSED

Angolan minister of social communications Hendrik Vaal Neto ordered the Roman Catholic station Radio Ecclesia to stop relaying live broadcasts from the Portuguese Catholic station Radio Renascenca. In a letter to Radio Ecclesia director Father Antonio Jaka, Vaal Neto said that his ministry had been monitoring the live “Renascenca in Africa” programs and concluded that they were a “flagrant violation of the Angolan press legislation and the broadcasting law.”

Vaal Neto did not specify which legisla-tive provisions Radio Ecclesia had allegedly contravened.

According to staff at Radio Ecclesia, the ban was unfounded and was imposed only because the government felt uncomfortable with public debate on the political and social situation in Angola. The radio station intends to continue broadcasting the program.

September 10
William Tonet, Folha 8 HARASSED

Angolan officials barred Tonet, managing editor of the independent biweekly Folha 8, from leaving the country. The Criminal Investigation Department (DNIC) ordered emigration police at Luanda International Airport to prevent Tonet from traveling abroad, where he had intended to seek financial and material support for Folha 8.

During the previous week, DNIC officials had questioned Tonet at least twice in connection with a controversial Folha 8 article about the government’s August 9 raid on the local Catholic station Radio Ecclesia.

October 2
William Tonet, Folha 8 IMPRISONED

In the early hours of the morning, police arrested Tonet, editor of the biweekly independent newspaper Folha 8, at his home in the capital, Luanda. Tonet said he was arrested by order of the police force’s Economic Crimes Unit for his alleged failure “to confirm and give details about the process of payment of fiscal obligations” regarding imports by a company he owned.

The editor believes that he was arrested for political reasons. The previous week an article had appeared in Folha 8 alleging corrupt practices in the Economic Crimes Unit. Tonet said that during the previous week he had been obliged to appear on five consecutive days at the Selective Crimes Section of the Department of Criminal Investigation for lengthy interrogations about his personal life and political affiliations.

Tonet was apparently held in deplorable conditions. He was released on the evening of October 4 after posting bail of 2.2 billion kwanzas (about US$500).

October 16
Rafael Marques, free-lancer IMPRISONED

Officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (DNIC) arrested Marques, a free-lance journalist who also represents the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa in Angola, at 6 a.m. at his home in the capital, Luanda. Police officers moved Marques to various locations throughout that day and eventually detained him at the “Labortorio de Criminalista” prison in Luanda.

On October 14, the police accused Marques of defamation in connection with an article that he published in a July edition of the independent weekly newspaper Agora. In the article Marques referred to President José Eduardo dos Santos as a “dictator.”

CPJ protested the incident in an October 18 letter to President dos Santos.

The journalist was charged with criminal defamation under the 1991 Angolan press law. He was initially refused access to a lawyer and to his family and went on a hunger strike for eight days to protest his detention. On October 26, the Angolan attorney general refused his bail application without explanation.

Marques was finally released on bail on November 25, and a trial date was set for December 15. Meanwhile, Marques was forbidden to leave Luanda. He was also ordered to refrain from contacting journalists or making public statements.

On December 15, officials at Luanda’s provincial court switched the trial to the Supreme Court. No explanation was given for shifting the case to a higher court, nor was there any indication of when the trial would begin.

December 2
Andre Domingos Mussamo, Angolan National Radio, Folha 8 IMPRISONED

Police arrested Mussamo, chief editor of the Cuanza Norte provincial branch of Angolan National Radio as well as correspondent for the independent biweekly newspaper Folha 8, in the provincial capital, N’Dalatando. Police accused the editor of crimes against state security after he wrote an article referring to a confidential letter from the provincial governor to President dos Santos (which Mussamo had apparently seen in the governor’s office). Although CPJ could not confirm the contents of the letter, it is known that the article was never published. Mussamo continues to be held without charge.

December 10

According to Radio Ecclesia, Angolan presidential spokesman Aldemiro Vaz de Conceicao told employees of the Lito-Tipo printing press in Luanda that they would be arrested if they printed certain articles planned for that day’s editions of the independent weekly Agora and the independent biweekly Folha 8.

As a result, Agora came out with one blank page. Folha 8 published four blank pages.

Both papers had intended to cover a damning report by the British advocacy group Global Witness, in which top Angolan officials, multinational oil companies, and international banks were accused of contributing to the country’s “humanitarian and development catastrophe.”

The report specifically implicated President José Eduardo dos Santos in allegedly corrupt management of state oil revenues. In response, the government threatened legal action against Global Witness. It was unclear how the authorities learned that the two newspapers planned to cover the report.

Both editors, Aguiar dos Santos of Agora and William Tonet of Folha 8, announced they would take legal action against the Angolan government for interfering in their editorial activities, causing financial losses.

The presidential spokesman denied the accusations, saying that Aguiar dos Santos should not be taken seriously because he was an “alcoholic.”

December 24
Gustavo Costa, Expresso HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION

A Luanda court convicted Costa, a correspondent for the Portuguese weekly Expresso, of defamation. He was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term and ordered to pay a fine of 2,850 kwanzas (US$570).

The court also ordered Costa to pay damages of US$20,000 as compensation for allegedly defaming Jose Leitao, chief of the Civil Office of the President of Angola. Costa’s lawyer appealed to the High Court, and the case is expected to reopen within a few months.

Leitao sued Costa for defamation in connection with an April 1999 article on corruption at the presidential palace. A few days after Leitao filed the lawsuit, Costa’s residence was searched by three police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department. The officers apparently confiscated two computer disks from Costa’s desk.

Since then, Costa has been barred from leaving Angola. According to local journalists, Costa also complained of threats on his life by “influential people close to the president’s office” who attempted unsuccessfully to force him to reveal his sources for the Expresso article.