Two journalists convicted of defaming official; two others begin trial

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New York, April 12, 2000 — On April 11, a Luanda court convicted two journalists of defaming a senior government official and gave them suspended sentences, sources in Angola told CPJ. Graca Campos, a news editor at the Luanda-based weekly Angolense, was sentenced to four months in jail, while Americo Goncalves, the paper’s editor-in-chief, was given three months.

The official, Kwanza-Norte provincial governor Manuel Pedro Pakavira, claimed to have been defamed by a series of articles published in Angolense in 1998 and 1999. The articles had alleged that Pakavira was incompetent and called for his dismissal.

The sentences were suspended for three years, with the condition that the two journalists can be jailed if they are convicted of any other offense within that period. Campos and Goncalves were also jointly ordered to pay US$40,000 in damages to Governor Pakavira. The fine is staggering in a country where the average journalist earns a few hundred dollars a month.

Meanwhile, the trial of reporter Machado Brandao and editor Leopoldo Baio, both employed by the weekly Actual, opened on Tuesday in the Provincial Criminal Court of Luanda. The two journalists face charges of defaming Transport Minister Luis Brandao in a 1998 article published under the headline “The Minister of Shame.” The report quoted residents in the town of Gabela, 180 miles southeast of Luanda, who criticized the minister for failing to provide public transport in their region.

CPJ is following the trial of Brandao and Baio closely, and will release regular updates. “Angolan government officials are using the law as political weapon to silence those who dare to criticize them,” noted Yves Sorokobi, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.