Journalist faces travel restrictions

New York, August 23, 2001—Immigration officials barred Gilberto Neto, reporter for the independent weekly Folha 8, from leaving Angola on August 18, CPJ has confirmed.

Neto was traveling to attend a three-week training course at the Reuters Institute in London. At the airport, immigration officials told him he was not allowed to leave the country because of an outstanding criminal charge and then confiscated his passport.

The charge dates to September 3, 1999, when Folha 8 reported on a police raid against the independent, church-affiliated Radio Ecclésia. The raid followed the Catholic station’s rebroadcast of a BBC interview with Jonas Savimbi, leader of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.

Police arrested Neto shortly thereafter and charged him with “endangering state security and defaming the police.”

The charges against Neto were never pursued in court, but Angolan sources believe that authorities intended to use the threat of prosecution to intimidate the journalist.

“Gilberto Neto has obviously been singled out because of his critical reporting,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Angolan government to allow all journalists to travel freely.”

Second arrest this summer
In July, police arrested Neto and a researcher in the northern province of Malanje and accused them of visiting the area without permission.

Neto told CPJ that he expected airport officials to harass him because of the earlier incident in Malanje. He did not expect them to bring up the 1999 charges, which Neto believed had been annulled under a wide-ranging government amnesty issued in November 2000.

Neto last traveled outside Angola in September 2000, when he attended the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s annual conference in Swaziland.

In January 2000, however, officials used the 1999 charges to keep Neto from visiting South Africa and Botswana with a group of journalists who had been invited to inspect de Beers diamond mines. Out of nine journalists from both the state and independent media, Neto was the only one prevented from leaving. Authorities confiscated his passport and held it for several months.

On July 17, CPJ sent a letter to President José Eduardo dos Santos protesting the harassment of Neto and Radio Ecclésia and urging the president to ensure that “all independent journalists in Angola may gather and circulate news without fear of repression.”