New York, March 12, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s Angolan police raid at the independent weekly Folha 8, which was conducted in connection with a politicized investigation into the publication of a satirical photo montage. Officers confiscated all of Folha 8‘s computers, effectively crippling the operations of one of the country’s two remaining independent publications.
About 15 officers of the Angolan National Directorate of Criminal Investigations arrived at the Luanda offices of Folha 8 at around 1 p.m., the paper’s editor-in-chief, Fernando Baxi, told CPJ. The officials took away about 20 computers from the newsroom, António Setas, the paper’s deputy director, told CPJ. Officials also forced Baxi to remove the battery of his cell phone during the seizure to prevent him from communicating with anyone, Setas said.
In an interview with the Portugal-based news agency LUSA today, Folha 8 editor William Tonet said the raid was connected to a public prosecutor’s December 2011 criminal investigation into the paper’s re-publication of an Internet photo montage lampooning President José Eduardo dos Santos, Vice President Fernando Piedade Dias dos Santos, and Gen. Manuel Helder Vieira Dias Júnior Kopelipa, the military adviser to the president. No formal charges in the investigation have been filed, but the newspaper’s computers could be used as evidence against them in the case, local journalists told CPJ.
CPJ obtained a copy of the search and seizure warrant signed by Public Prosecutor João Vemba Coca, which called on Angolan police to seize all computers and tools used to commit “acts that constitute the crime of outrage against the state, the person of the president, and the organs of the executive.” Folha 8 has reported on government corruption and has also covered the recent anti-government protests challenging Dos Santos’ 32 years of rule, according to CPJ research. Without its computers, the paper is unable to publish.
Angolan police spokesman Carmo Neto did not immediately return CPJ’s calls for comment.
“The seizure of Folha 8‘s computers is a crude act of censorship meant to silence one of the few remaining independent news outlets in Angola,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Satire is not an outrage against the state–it’s an important part of robust debate in a free society. We call on authorities to return Folha 8‘s equipment at once and put an end to this politically motivated investigation.”
Journalists at Folha 8 have been targeted before. In October 2011, authorities handed Tonet a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 10 million kwanza (US$105,000), which he is still appealing. The journalist had written stories alleging corruption and abuse of power by five senior officials close to Dos Santos, according to local journalists.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been modified to reflect that Tonet was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and a 10 million kwanza fine in October 2011, not 2010.