Attacks on the Press 2001: Angola

Angola’s rulers remained powerless to remedy longstanding woes such as appalling child mortality and rampant corruption, but government troops meddled in civil wars in the two Congos and carried out bloody forays into Zambia, allegedly in search of fighters from the rebel UNITA organization.

As the country’s basic social indicators sink ever lower on the global scale, a broad-based civil society movement has emerged, supported by leading clergymen and journalists. In 2001, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) responded by tightening its hold on the state media, which employs 80 percent of Angolan media workers and includes the country’s only daily, Jornal de Angola, the wire service ANGOP, and a nationwide television and radio network.

Over the course of 2001, Angolan authorities fired journalists from state media for alleged “excessive transparency,” banned radio programs because they “went against the government,” and restricted the movements of outspoken independent reporters such as Gilberto Neto of the newspaper Folha 8.

At year’s end, opposition parties, of which there are more than 100 in a country of 12 million people, continued to slam President José Eduardo dos Santos’ decision to hold general elections in late 2002, a timetable deemed unrealistic because of the violence related to ongoing civil war. Dos Santos said he would not run but stuck to his schedule, relying on the Army’s drive to recruit 15,000 new soldiers and secure peace on the battlefield before the election.

But signs were scarce that Angola’s 26-year-old conflict would end anytime soon. The United Nations and the so-called Troika of Observer Countries (Russia, Portugal, and the United States), charged with monitoring implementation of the 1994 Lusaka peace accord, made vigorous efforts to isolate UNITA.

On May 4, Vice Minister for Social Communications Manuel Augusto visited CPJ’s New York offices for a meeting with staff and board members. Augusto said that a draconian draft press law proposed in late 2000 and slammed by CPJ and others was still being rewritten.

Augusto said the government had received dozens of expert comments on the draft law, which would be evaluated by a special commission of lawmakers, lawyers and journalists to be appointed by President dos Santos. The commission would be given a deadline to study the draft law and the submissions and send a revised draft to the government. At year’s end, Angolan authorities had still not begun this process.

During the meeting with Augusto, CPJ reiterated concerns about the vulnerability of journalists working in Angola’s war-torn provincial regions. In response, Augusto blamed the journalists themselves for the problems they faced, saying they needed more training and better professional ethics, an argument commonly used by Angolan authorities to divert attention from their repressive actions.

Two months later, on July 9, a group of nine reporters in the northern province of Kwanza-Norte issued a statement denouncing local officials who had accused them of being unpatriotic and had threatened them with jail or worse. The signatories included reporters from both sides of the political divide, including Silvino Fortunato and Afonso Garcia of the official ANGOP news agency and Andre Mussamo of Folha 8.

Coverage of the civil war proved equally tricky for foreign correspondents on assignment in Angola. In early April, Portugal protested the Angolan government’s decision to bar seven Portuguese journalists from reporting on a hostage crisis in the remote northern enclave of Cabinda, near the border with Congo. Two Cabinda-based separatist groups, FLEC-FAC and FLEC-Renovada, had taken a dozen Portuguese men hostage weeks earlier.

Unmoved, Angolan officials retorted that the Portuguese journalists had merely been “advised” to leave because Angolan troops could no longer guarantee their safety in the region.

As in past years, Radio Ecclesia, a Catholic Church-owned station known for its political independence, suffered repeated harassment last year. Ecclesia’s main tormentors were the state media, which accused the station of plotting subversion against the MPLA. On July 9, Radio Ecclesia suspended all news programming, airing only religious music and a recorded message that urged listeners to pray. This followed a vicious slander campaign spearheaded by Jornal de Angola. The Catholic station resumed normal programming on July 11, saying that the 48-hour interruption was due to “internal restructuring.”

On July 18, the Angolan Journalists Union (SJA) condemned the “terror campaign” against Ecclesia and other independent media, and accused state media of fostering a “climate of political intolerance.”

At year’s end, disturbing new information emerged about the June 5, 1998, murder of Simao Roberto, an outspoken Jornal de Angola columnist who was shot dead as he returned from an assignment at the presidential palace. According to reports in Folha 8, three men arrested two weeks after the killing only confessed to the crime under duress.

Suspect Raul Paulo Agostinho told Folha 8 that police had detained him and two friends in connection with a car accident. Agostinho said that four days after their arrest, one of the other suspects was taken from his cell, tortured, and then shot dead. (Police later claimed that the suspect was trying to escape.) After that, Agostinho said he quickly confessed to a crime that he never committed.

June 9

“Ponto de Vista”

Authorities in the eastern Angola town of Lunda-Norte banned the popular radio show “Ponto de Vista” (Point of View), which aired on Emissora Provincial da Lunda-Norte, a local affiliate of the Angolan state radio network.

Sources in Angola said that on June 6, the provincial director for social communications, Manuel Cambinda, told the program’s host, Olavito de Assunçõo, that the program would be taken off the air for being “against the government.” The program remained banned at year’s end.

June 27

Tulimeyo Kaapanda, NBC
Patric Mettler, NBC

Mettler and Kaapanda, reporters for the official Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), and unarmed members of the Namibian police’s Special Field Force were taken hostage for four hours by Angolan soldiers at the border between Namibia and Angola.

The NBC crew was filming a feature on car theft in the region when five soldiers arrested them and accused them of crossing the border illegally. The soldiers also confiscated the journalists’ car and cameras.

After negotiations between the crew, the Angolan soldiers, and the Namibian border patrol, the group was freed. The confiscated tape was returned to the journalists several days later.

July 7

Gilberto Neto, Folha 8

Neto, a journalist for the independent weekly Folha 8, was arrested at the airport in the northern province of Malanje, according to sources in Luanda. Neto was traveling with Phillipe Lebillon, a researcher from the London-based Overseas Development Institute, who was also arrested.

As soon as local authorities discovered the presence of a Folha 8 reporter and a foreigner in the province, they assigned security agents to follow them, Angolan sources reported. The two had been in Malanje for five days researching local economic effects of the Angolan civil war.

On July 6, Malanje governor Flávio Fernandes’s spokesperson told Neto and Lebillon that they were prohibited from continuing their work because they had not received authorization from the governor.

Two police officers escorted Neto and Lebillon on the airplane back to Luanda, where they were handed over to the National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC). The two were interrogated for an hour and accused of traveling illegally to Malanje. The police confiscated their passports, Neto’s press accreditation, and several pieces of equipment, including a tape recorder, a camera, notebooks and film.

Neto expressed concern over the confiscation of his equipment, Angolan sources reported. His documents included the names of the people he had interviewed in the province, and Neto said he feared for their security.

July 10

Alexandre Cose, Radio Ecclésia

Officials barred Alexandre Cose, a reporter for the independent station Radio Ecclésia, from covering the government’s forced evacuation of some 13,000 families from the Boavista district of Luanda. Cose was denied access to a camp in Viana, a town approximately 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) outside Luanda where Boavista residents have been relocated.

Radio Ecclésia claimed that Cose was singled out because he worked for the independent media, noting that a journalist from the state media was allowed to enter the Viana camp.

July 12

Justin Pearce, BBC
Rafael Marques, free-lancer

Authorities in Angola detained journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques for approximately one hour, according to Angolan sources.

Marques was covering the government’s forced relocation of residents from the Boavista district of Luanda to a camp in the town of Viana, approximately 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) outside Luanda. During the previous week, the government had forced some 13,000 Boavista families to relocate.

Marques, along with other journalists, followed a delegation comprising parliamentarians, members of the residents’ association, and the lawyer representing the Boavista residents to the settlement.

At around 5:30 p.m., police officers prevented Marques and BBC correspondent Justin Pearce from photographing and interviewing the residents. The officers then took Marques into custody and drove him to the local police station, where he was interrogated by the station chief and accused of “agitating” in the camp. Although Pearce was not detained, police initially tried to stop him from reporting the incident to the BBC.

Authorities let Marques go after approximately one hour, following a phone call from the local administrator requesting the journalist’s release.

Police harassed Marques and Pearce on two other occasions in the previous week while they attempted to cover the Boavista relocation.

According to Pearce, on the morning of July 8, police confiscated Marques’ digital camera while he was trying to photograph the evacuation of Boavista from a hilltop above the scene. Though the officer returned the camera, he kept the diskette containing the photographs. When the two journalists descended the hill into the residential area, where they intended to conduct interviews, they were confronted by a man who both journalists believe was a plainclothes police officer. He threatened to harm them physically if they persisted in covering the evacuation.

Though the two journalists were able to interview residents without interference on July 11, authorities prevented them from doing so the following day. According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, an officer for the Ministry of Social Reinsertion told the journalists that she had strict orders not to allow any journalist to talk to the residents, take pictures, or even walk around the area without a special permit from the government.