New York, April 15, 2021 – Angolan authorities must refrain from arresting members of the press covering public events, and should return all equipment confiscated from journalist Jorge Manuel, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On April 7, police officers arrested Manuel, a reporter for the Radio Despertar broadcaster, while he was covering protests against local authorities’ evictions of people in the Sequele municipality of Luanda, the capital, according to Manuel and Radio Despertar co-director Queirós Chiluvia, both of whom spoke to CPJ in phone interviews.
Police held Manuel until April 12, when they released him under the condition that he report to the police station every 15 days while authorities investigate whether he was part of the anti-eviction protest, Manuel’s lawyer, Pedro Camgombe, told CPJ over messaging app.
Officers confiscated Manuel’s phone and recorder during his arrest and did not return them upon his release, Manuel told CPJ.
Chiluvia said he believed that Manuel had been targeted because he works for Radio Despertar, a media outlet owned by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the country’s largest opposition party.
“The government of Angolan President João Lourenço must rein in the country’s security forces and ensure that journalists are able to cover newsworthy events without being arbitrarily detained or harassed with orders to repeatedly appear before police,” said CPJ’s Africa Program coordinator, Angela Quintal. “Authorities should drop their investigation into reporter Jorge Manuel, return his equipment, and allow him and all other members of the press to work freely.”
Manuel said that police rounded up everyone at the protest and forced them into police vans. He said that he identified himself as a journalist when he arrived at the police station, and Chiluvia told CPJ that Radio Despertar repeatedly contacted police during Manuel’s detention to explain that he was a member of the press covering the protest.
Manuel said he was held in a cell at the Sequele police station with other detainees, and the only food available was brought by detainees’ families. He told CPJ that detainees had nothing to cover themselves while they slept on the bare floor, and that the facility’s toilets were out of order and detainees had to use plastic bags.
“It was all a terrible ordeal, I wasn’t beaten but I feel psychologically beaten,” the journalist told CPJ. Camgombe told CPJ that the journalist almost spent another night in jail when, on April 12, Sequele police claimed that their printer had run out of ink and that they could not print his release form.
Manuel was released after being interviewed on April 12 by a public prosecutor, who told him that he had been held for five days because no one was available “to instruct the process,” Manuel told CPJ.
Luanda police spokesman Nestor Goubel told CPJ by phone that Manuel had not identified himself as a journalist when he was arrested and had only done so when he was in custody at the police station.
Asked why Manuel had remained in detention for more than five days after having identified himself as a journalist, Goubel declined to comment further, saying only that police were investigating whether he had helped to erect barricades as part of the protest. He said that Manuel was arrested with a large group of squatters who had invaded property and had resisted attempts by authorities to evict them.
Camgombe told CPJ that Manuel was working to cover the protests at the time of his arrest.
Teixeira Candido, secretary-general of the Union of Angolan Journalists, told CPJ by phone that Manuel’s prolonged detention seriously violated Angola’s criminal procedure law, which states that suspects can only be held for up to 48 hours before they are granted a hearing.
In October 2020, CPJ documented Angolan authorities’ harassment, beatings, and detentions of journalists covering protests in Luanda.
In those incidents, police confiscated equipment from journalists at the broadcaster Radio Essencial and its sister publication Valor Económico. On April 13, Radio Essencial Director Emidio Fernando told CPJ via messaging app that authorities still had not returned their equipment.