Prominent journalist sent to jail in libel case

ANGOLA: Prominent journalist sent to prison for defamation suit

New York, October 5, 2007 – The prominent director of a private weekly newspaper in Angola was sent to prison on Wednesday after being sentenced to eight months in prison and a fine of 18.7 million kwanzas (US$ 250,000) for a defamation case. The director of Semanário Angolense, Graça Campos, was sentenced on September 25 for “libel, defamation, slander and violation of rights” involving the former justice minister, according to his defense lawyer and local journalists.

Defense lawyer Paulo Rangel said he had filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, but Luanda Provincial Court judge Pedro Viana did not immediately release Campos, who was held in a prison on the outskirts of Angola’s main city.

Paulo Chipilica, former Minister of Justice and current Ombudsman, complained about “sarcastic passages” in a series of articles by Campos published in 2001 and 2004, according to local journalists. In particular, Chipilica took issue with an article from March 2004 – entitled “If he is not stopped, he will sell the whole country” – which suggested improprieties in the transfer of former colonial houses to Portuguese ownership.

According to journalists from Semanário Angolense, Campos missed two hearings because he was in Brazil for personal reasons and was not notified of the dates of the sessions. They said that Campos returned for the September 25 hearing, hoping to present his defense, only to receive the guilty verdict.

“The high fine is clearly an effort to ensure that Campos and his important publication are silenced. Even more outrageous is that he is being sent to prison for being sarcastic,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “Angola does not have a history of imprisoning journalists and should not start one now.”

Semanário Angolense, one of Angola’s main independent newspapers, is also facing a 75 million kwanzas (US$1 million) defamation lawsuit filed by Prime Minister Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos in 2004.

CPJ is an independent, non-profit organization based in New York, dedicated to defending press freedom around the world.

Editor’s note: This alert has been updated to correct several translation errors