Attacks on the Press 2002: Angola

On February 21, Angola’s government announced that its troops had killed Jonas Savimbi, who led the UNITA rebel group’s fight for power in oil-rich Angola for more than 30 years. That same day, state television ran a special news program featuring Savimbi’s corpse filmed from several angles with repeated close-ups of his neck, where the fatal bullet had entered. Many Angolans celebrated in the streets with fireworks, gunshots, and champagne, while others grappled with anxiety about the future.

In late March, war-weary UNITA fighters and the government of President José Eduardo dos Santos signed a peace accord. Angolan journalists cheered UNITA’s surrender and began reporting on the rebels’ demobilization and disarmament, as well as on the nationwide reconciliation effort. “Não Coragem” (Courageous Nation), a weekly public-affairs program on state television, won instant popularity inside and outside Angola when it was launched in May. The program broadcasts stories of citizens looking for relatives who disappeared during the decades-long conflict. By September, “Não Coragem” had aired the stories of 7,000 people, reuniting about 80 families, according to the BBC.

Law enforcement officials did not always welcome journalists’ coverage of the reconciliation movement. On May 31, the Office of Criminal Investigations detained and interrogated Manuel Vieira, a correspondent from the Catholic-owned station Radio Ecclesia, in the southern Huila Province. For several hours, Veira was pressed to explain why he had chosen to report that government-built transit camps for demobilized UNITA fighters have curiously high death rates. He was warned against further disclosures and then released.

In January, the Provincial Court of Luanda ordered free-lance journalist Rafael Marques to pay US$950 to President dos Santos following the journalist’s March 2000 conviction for defamation. The case against Marques stemmed from an article he had written blaming dos Santos for “the destruction of the country and the promotion of corruption.”

At year’s end, a Luanda court was considering a complaint filed by the Eduardo dos Santos Foundation against the private weekly Agora. The paper is accused of forgery and defamation for a November article it published claiming that two Angolan women arrested at the Rio de Janeiro airport in possession of US$1 million in cash were on assignment for the foundation. “It was with perplexity and profound indignation that we took notice of a matter deeply damaging to the image and objectives of the foundation,” the chairman explained.

Angola’s leaders have yet to present the draft of a new, more liberal, press law that was promised more than two years ago. Government officials say they are working on it, but journalists remain skeptical. While Agora regularly publishes editorials reminding the government of its promise, most Angolan journalists seem too busy making ends meet to monitor the authorities’ long string of unfulfilled pledges.


“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 Assunção, that the program would be taken off the air for being “against the government.” The program remained banned at year’s end.