Attacks on the Press 2000: Angola

AS ANGOLA’S AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT CONTINUED ITS LONG SIEGE against all forms of dissent last year, independent journalists received special attention from the repressive apparatus of the state. Although most private media outlets are weekly newspapers that reach no more than a few thousand people, the hypersensitive regime of President José Eduardo dos Santos has routinely stifled its critics via detention, heavy fines, and bureaucratic pressure.

Two subjects in particular are problematic for independent media. The first is the country’s 25-year-old civil war. When fighting resumed in late 1998, the government clamped down hard on reports about sensitive issues such as draft dodging.

The second dangerous topic is the widespread corruption that robs all but a small elite in Angola of the economic benefits of the country’s lucrative oil reserves. In 1999, President dos Santos and other officials brought criminal defamation charges against several independent journalists in retaliation for their reporting or commentary on state corruption. When those cases came to trial in 2000, the journalists were usually convicted, fined, and given suspended prison sentences.

At the end of 2000, no Angolan journalists were jailed because of their work, a significant and welcome development; throughout 1999 and the early weeks of 2000, several journalists had been imprisoned for weeks or months at a time.

In July, the government introduced a draft press law that would tighten restrictions on independent reporting. Despite a firestorm of domestic and international criticism, the bill had not yet been withdrawn at year’s end. All over Angola, independent reporters and editors said that officials reacted to bad press by accusing journalists of being unpatriotic and in the pay of foreign states. Some provincial governors have barred critical reporters from covering news events or even entering public buildings.

In May CPJ named President dos Santos one of the world’s “Ten Worst Enemies of the Press,” based on the dozens of cases of media repression documented by press freedom activists since the resumption of civil war in 1998. Particular targets of the government have included the private, Roman Catholic station Radio Ecclesia, the Voice of America, and the weeklies Agora, Folha 8, Angolense, and Actual, which circulate mainly in the capital, Luanda.

Throughout the year, international media drew attention to Angola’s abysmal press freedom record. Detailed reports on repression of independent journalism appeared in The New York Times, The Economist, and other publications.

To highlight its growing concern about press freedom conditions in Angola, CPJ led a six-member delegation to Luanda in October. The delegation met with state and independent media, along with government officials; it included CPJ executive director Ann Cooper, CPJ board member Peter Arnett, Alex Vines of Human Rights Watch, Njonjo Mue of ARTICLE 19, and journalists Fernando Lima of Mozambique and Pamela Dube of South Africa.

During the meetings, government officials resurrected an old argument that has frequently been used to justify cracking down on the Angolan press: Civil war poses such a threat to Angolan society, they claimed, that journalists cannot be allowed to report freely on such sensitive topics as the military draft and the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi. In addition, officials effectively blamed the victims for their own repression, charging that independent journalists run into trouble because they are inexperienced, unprofessional, and need better training.

“We think most of the problems that we are facing now lie in the lack of training,” said Vice Minister for Social Communications Manuel Augusto, who appealed to the CPJ delegation to support more international training courses for local journalists.

The founders of several private media outlets pointed out that far from being untrained novices, they and many of their employees had worked in Angola’s state media until the early 1990s, when the first independent newspapers and radio stations were permitted to launch (television remains a state monopoly to this day).

In recent years, even the normally docile state media outlets have faced government pressure. In 1999, angry state authorities detained and questioned representatives from both the state-owned Televisao Publica de Angola and the private Radio Ecclesia when the two stations rebroadcast a BBC interview with rebel leader Savimbi.

The government’s determination to censor Savimbi and other sensitive subjects undercuts its rhetorical promises of greater democracy. Further eroding the democracy message, dos Santos announced on December 29 that elections promised for November 2001 would be postponed until late 2002, exactly a decade after the country’s first and only multiparty elections. Although Angola’s Constitution calls for elections every four years, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) holds an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly and has twice overridden the election requirement. MPLA leader dos Santos has ruled Angola since 1979.

Opposition protests are unlikely to reverse the election postponement, since the dozens of parties challenging the government are all tiny and ineffectual. In fact, among the elements of civil society in Angola, independent journalists are by far the strongest and most effective critics of the government, making them a favored target.

“The opposition in Angola is not really working. It seems that the opposition is the journalists,” said Father Antonio Jaca, director of the Catholic Church’s Radio Ecclesia. “The journalists are a…symbol of resistance to the government.”

One of the strongest symbols is Radio Ecclesia, which was allowed to resume broadcasting in 1997, after a lengthy ban, and is now perhaps the most influential independent media voice in Angola. Radio Ecclesia pioneered pro-and-con public debate programs, a format now copied by state broadcasters on selected topics. But its independent reporting has made the station a frequent target of state wrath.

In June, Radio Ecclesia deputy director José Paolo was kidnapped and driven into the countryside by men who, according to Father Jaca, demanded to know, “Why are you so against the government?” and “What are you cooking up with your radio station?” Paolo managed to escape when one of the cars used in the kidnapping got stuck in mud, distracting his captors.

Radio Ecclesia officials say the kidnapping may have been in reprisal for the station’s reporting on a June attack by uniformed men on the Luanda office of Voice of America. Or it may have signaled official displeasure with the broadcast of an interview with writer Rafael Marques, another frequent target of government repression.

Marques, who formerly worked for the state’s daily newspaper Jornal de Angola, is a free-lance journalist and human rights activist. As head of the Open Society Initiative’s Angola office, he has been instrumental in exposing press freedom violations, particularly in the provinces, where journalists are often at the mercy of powerful local governors.

In March, Marques went on trial in Luanda in a case stemming from a July 1999 commentary published by the independent weekly Agora. In his article, Marques labeled dos Santos a “dictator” and accused him of fostering “incompetence, embezzlement, and corruption as political and social values.” On March 31, he was convicted, fined the equivalent of US$16,000, and given a six-month suspended jail sentence. Agora publisher Aguiar dos Santos (who is not related to the Angolan president) was a codefendant in the trial; he received a two-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of US$6,000.

Though he remained out of prison, Marques was targeted for harassment throughout the year. During a January parliamentary debate on press freedom, a member of dos Santos’s party stated that if Marques, then 28, continued to criticize the president, he would not live to age 40. And all year, he was banned from traveling outside Angola. When a Luanda court rescinded the travel ban in December, Marques tried to leave the country for a meeting in South Africa, only to have his passport seized without explanation at the airport.

Such arbitrary treatment reflects the uncertainties and capriciousness of Angolan justice. Authorities often open a “case” in response to an article and keep it open indefinitely, even though formal charges are never brought. Father Jaca, for instance, had yet to face formal charges more than a year after being detained and questioned over Radio Ecclesia’s rebroadcast of the Jonas Savimbi interview. “Probably” no charges would be brought, he said. But government officials likely were leaving that possibility open in hopes of intimidating Jaca and his colleagues.

Outside the capital, provincial governors have other ways to punish independent journalism. Several provincial reporters, who all work for state media and free-lance for independent outlets, met with the CPJ delegation in October. In response to their reporting on topics such as local corruption, they had been threatened with violence, denounced publicly as spies, and even banned from public buildings.

“This is the sort of pressure they put on us, to demonize us and drive us away from the job,” said reporter Andre Mussamo, who was branded “an agent of imperialism” and barred from entering his local bakery, grocery store, and disco by Kwanza-Norte provincial governor Manuel Pacavira.

In a statement released on October 4, at the end of its mission in Luanda, the CPJ delegation called on the dos Santos government to ensure the safety of journalists working in provinces where constitutional freedom-of-expression guarantees were frequently violated. The statement also called on the government to withdraw its draft press law, drop all criminal defamation cases against journalists, and work toward eliminating criminal penalties from Angolan defamation laws.

In November, the government announced a broad amnesty for a variety of crimes. The state-run Jornal de Angola reported that the amnesty included journalists convicted for criminal defamation, a reference to Rafael Marques, Aguiar dos Santos, and others who had received suspended sentences.

But the “amnesty” required that journalists and others apply formally to have their crimes forgiven; the government could still reject an application if it chose. As a result, many journalists rejected the amnesty as an empty public relations ploy.

Equally empty, they said, was the government’s decision to solicit public comment on the draft press law introduced in July. Officials claimed the invitation was proof of their commitment to improving press freedom. “Not only are we concerned (about foreign criticism), but we’re strongly engaged in reducing the reasons for that criticism,” communications vice minister Manuel Augusto told The Associated Press at year’s end.

But the draft law itself was a disastrous development for the media. Written in secret, mainly by law enforcement officials, the law would make it practically impossible for journalists in Angola to cover any matter relating to the country’s political life without risking incarceration, as CPJ argued in a September 11 press release.

The government, apparently surprised by vehement opposition at home and abroad, let lapse a timetable for presenting the draft to the National Assembly. Diplomats and journalists predicted the proposal would die quietly, without further mention. But the draft was never formally withdrawn. And so, as so often happens in Angola, it remains an additional threat to media already under siege.

Rafael Marques, free-lancer

During a parliamentary debate, delegate Mendes de Carvalho of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) openly threatened Marques, a free-lance journalist, stating that if the journalist continued to criticize President José Eduardo dos Santos, he would not live to the age of 40. These remarks were widely quoted in state media.

The threat related to a July 3, 1999, opinion piece, titled “The Lipstick of Dictatorship,” in which Marques characterized dos Santos as a dictator. The journalist was arrested on October 16, 1999, and charged with defamation in connection with this article. He was released on bail on November 25, 1999, and was tried in March 2000 (for more information see March 31 and December 12 cases).

Alves Fernandes, Radio Televisão Portuguesa
Carlos Amorim, Radio Televisão Portuguesa

Police arrested and interrogated Fernandes and Amorim, reporter and cameraman, respectively, for the Africa service of the Portuguese state television network, Radio Televisão Portuguesa (RTP). The two journalists had been filming members of the opposition Partido de Apoio Democratico e Progresso de Angola, who were preparing to demonstrate in the capital, Luanda, against fuel-price increases.

Police accused the two journalists of filming “sensitive locations,” including the environs of the Finance Ministry.

The two journalists were released several hours later, after the intervention of the RTP bureau chief, but police confiscated their videotapes.

Rafael Marques, free-lancer
Aguiar dos Santos, Agora
Antonio Freitas,

A Luanda court convicted Marques, a free-lance journalist, of having defamed President José Eduardo dos Santos in a July 1999 article.

Aguiar dos Santos, publisher of the independent weekly Agora (and no relation to the president), was convicted at the same time of defaming the president in an August 1999 editorial.

Marques, who also represented the Open Society Initiative in Angola, was sentenced to six months in prison and fined US$16,000, while dos Santos received a two-month prison term and a US$6000 fine. Both journalists filed appeals and were released on bail. Freitas, the newspaper’s editor, who was charged in connection with the Marques article, was acquitted on all charges.

Marques was arrested at his Luanda home on October 16, 1999, and charged with defamation in connection with an article titled “The Lipstick of Dictatorship,” which ran under his byline in the July 3, 1999, edition of Agora.

In the article, Marques charged that President dos Santos was responsible for “the destruction of the country…[and] for the promotion of incompetence, embezzlement, and corruption as political and social values.” Marques also referred to dos Santos as a “dictator.”

Marques was released on bail on November 25, 1999, pending a trial initially scheduled for March 7, 2000. Meanwhile, in early February, a Luanda judge refused Marques permission to travel outside Angola.

The Marques trial finally opened on March 9, before a packed audience of local and international observers. The presiding judge, former secret-service officer Joaquim Cangato, then adjourned the trial until March 21, pending a Supreme Court ruling on a defense appeal.

Dos Santos’ lawyers argued that they had not been given sufficient time to prepare their defense, as guaranteed by the Angolan Constitution.

Judge Cangato, who appeared nervous throughout the hearing, dismissed the prosecutor’s argument that the defendants were not entitled to normal constitutional protections because they were accused of an exceptional “crime against the state,” under Article 46 of the 1992 Press Law, for defaming President dos Santos.

Marques and his two co-defendants were forced to stand throughout the two-hour hearing.

On March 22, Marques’ lawyer, Luis Nascimento, appealed to the Supreme Court on grounds of procedural irregularity. He was denied the right to read this appeal into the record. In protest, he walked out of the courtroom.

Judge Cangato, who apparently had no legal training, subsequently ruled that Nascimento be disbarred for six months, despite the fact that only the Angolan Bar Association can legally make such decisions.

Marques, who refused to answer questions without legal representation, was offered the option of a public defender, which he declined. Judge Cangato then ordered an unnamed court official to take over Marques’ defense, with or without Marques’ approval. The judge then adjourned the proceedings.

Witnesses for both sides testified when the trial resumed on March 28. Prosecution witnesses claimed that Marques had humiliated the government of President dos Santos, tarnished the honor and dignity of the president himself, and demoralized the Angolan army.

Witnesses for the prosecution included José Leitão, director of President dos Santos’s cabinet, and Aldemiro Vaz de Conceiçao, the president’s spokesman, who stated that Marques’ criticism of the head of state had gone “beyond the limits of free expression.”

The two government officials further accused Marques of belonging to an international conspiracy obsessed with destroying the dos Santos government. In his closing argument, Rui Ferreira, a lawyer for President dos Santos, urged Judge Cangato to be tough in his ruling since Marques had shown no signs of regret for his actions and had refused to “cooperate” in court. Ferreira recommended that “destabilizing the army” be added to the charges and that Marques be imprisoned for the longest time possible.

Marques was allowed to call just one witness, Fernando Macedo, an Angolan human rights activist. Judge Cangato quickly dismissed Macedo’s deposition, which questioned the constitutionality of the charges against Marques. The judge subsequently ordered Macedo to leave the courtroom and “discuss those issues elsewhere.”

CPJ covered the Marques trial extensively on its Web site, and condemned the prosecution of all three Agora journalists in a March 6 letter to President dos Santos. On April 5, CPJ sent the president a second letter protesting the convictions of dos Santos and Marques. (See also January 19 and December 12 cases.)

Graca Campos, Angolense
Americo Goncalves,

Campos, a news editor at the weekly Angolense in Luanda, and Goncalves, the paper’s editor, were given suspended sentences after being convicted of defaming a senior government official.

The official, Kwanza-Norte provincial governor Manuel Pedro Pacavira, claimed to have been defamed by a series of articles published in Angolense in 1998 and 1999 that accused him of incompetence and demanded his dismissal.

The sentences, four months for Campos and three months for Goncalves, were suspended for three years, with the condition that the two journalists could be jailed if they were convicted of any other offense within that period. Campos and Goncalves were also jointly ordered to pay US$40,000 in damages to Pakavira.

Andre Domingo Mussamo, Folha 8

Mussamo, a correspondent for the independent biweekly Folha 8 and a former editor of the Kwanza-Norte provincial branch of Angolan National Radio, was acquitted on charges of “revealing state secrets.” The charge stemmed from an unpublished article based on a letter written by the governor of Kwanza-Norte. According to sources at the Kwanza-Norte Criminal Court, the letter contained “highly important information of a military nature.” Mussamo was tried along with Agostinho Mateus Augusto, the governor’s press officer, who was accused of leaking the letter to the journalist.

Angolan police originally arrested Mussamo on December 2, 1999.

After his arrest, Mussamo was held for more than three months in deplorable conditions in a Kwanza-Norte penitentiary. During that time, authorities cut off his home telephone line and confiscated some of his family’s possessions. Mussamo eventually posted bail and was released from prison around March 16, on condition that he not leave Kwanza-Norte or resume his professional activities.

Mussamo’s piece was written in September, but never published. It is unclear how police learned about its contents. According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, an agent of the security services searched Mussamo’s desk at work and found a draft of the article.

Mussamo, who faced up to eight years in prison if convicted, was acquitted on April 26.

Isidoro Natalício, Jornal de Angola

Officials in the town of Ndalatando ordered Natalício, a local correspondent for the state-owned daily Jornal de Angola, to vacate his government-owned residence on the grounds that he had improperly used the house to file reports for the Voice of America (VOA), the Catholic Church-owned Angolan station Radio Ecclesia, and the Portuguese news agency LUSA. Natalício was given five days to move or face legal action. The Housing Department’s eviction notice claimed that the journalist had violated his lease by engaging in for-profit activities while residing in state-owned housing.

Natalício had recently faced other forms of harassment, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). He was banned from covering official functions in Ndalatando and was barred from entering any property belonging to Kwanza-Norte provincial governor Manuel Pedro Pacavira.

Voice of America

Four armed men dressed in Angolan army uniforms attacked the Luanda office of the Voice of America (VOA). The intruders made two unsuccessful attempts to force their way into the VOA’s Angola Project office, at 3 a.m. and again at approximately 1 p.m.

After threatening security guards at gunpoint, the men succeeded in getting through the gates, but were unable to gain access to the newsroom. No VOA personnel were hurt in the incident, and no material damage was reported.

It was not clear what had motivated the attack, the first of its kind against the U.S. government-funded VOA, which was then in its fourth year of operation in Angola.

Jose Paulo, Radio Ecclesia

Four armed men wearing Angolan army uniforms kidnapped Paulo, editor of the Catholic station Radio Ecclesia in Luanda. Paulo was abducted in downtown Luanda and driven beyond the city limits. He reportedly escaped when the kidnappers’ vehicle got stuck in a bush track.

It was not clear what prompted the abduction, but CPJ sources in Angola pointed to several controversial programs that had aired recently on Radio Ecclesia. For example, the station provided ample coverage of the June 21 attack on the Luanda office of the Voice of America (VOA, see previous case).

One day before Paulo’s abduction, Radio Ecclesia broadcast an interview with local journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques. And just hours before Paulo was picked up, the station aired a live debate on the role of oil and diamonds in the Angolan civil war.

Rafael Marques, free-lancer

Free-lance journalist Marques was prevented from leaving Angola by immigration officials at the airport in Luanda. The officers confiscated his passport and sent him home without explanation. The harassment occurred in connection with Marques’ conviction in March on charges that he had defamed President José Eduardo dos Santos in a July 1999 article, published in the independent weekly Agora, in which he characterized the head of state as a dictator. Marques was given a suspended six-month prison term and a fine, and was barred from traveling outside the country during his probation.

On December 8, Judge Joaquim Cangato signed a court order lifting all travel restrictions against Marques and two other journalists, Aguiar dos Santos and Antonio Freitas. Marques received a copy of the order on December 11 and took it to immigration officials, who stamped it and indicated that Marques would have no problem traveling outside of Angola.

The next day, Marques returned to the airport with the court order, his passport, and an airline ticket to South Africa, where he was scheduled to attend a meeting of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. According to Marques, he had already cleared airport check-in and customs procedures when an immigration official named Sirmino Somazie took him to an office and told him there was a problem. Marques was then informed that he could not leave the country after all. He was told to go home, and his passport was not returned to him. Nor was he given a receipt for the passport.

Marques’ passport remained with the authorities at year’s end, despite official assurances that the airport incident was a “mistake” and that the journalist was indeed free to travel.

CPJ protested this incident in a December 12 letter to President dos Santos (for more information, see January 19 and March 31 cases).