New York, June 4, 2021 — Angolan authorities must drop criminal defamation investigations into journalists and reform sections of the country’s penal code that criminalize reporting, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Between May 18 and May 24, the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) in Luanda, the capital, questioned Lucas Pedro, editor of privately-owned news website Club K, Escrivão José, director of privately-owned newspaper and news website Hora H, and Carlos Alberto, editor of the privately-owned YouTube news channel A Denúncia, as part of three separate criminal defamation investigations over the publications’ reporting, according to Alberto, Pedro, José, and Hora H lawyer Salvador Freire, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. The editor of the privately-owned Manchete newspaper, Jorge Neto, also told CPJ via phone call that he is facing a criminal defamation charge after SIC questioning in 2019.
“The spate of criminal defamation investigations into Angolan journalists ahead of next year’s election signals an alarming offensive against independent journalism that must end immediately,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator in New York. “Angolan authorities should stop weaponizing the country’s criminal defamation and insult laws against the press and instead must work towards repealing all laws that criminalize journalism.”
On May 18, Pedro, editor of Club K, was questioned by the SIC in connection to a criminal defamation and insult complaint against the outlet by businessman Enoque Francisco about articles published on January 23 and January 30 alleging Francisco appropriated someone else’s land to build a shopping center, the editor told CPJ via messaging app.
Pedro said Club K was misled by a source and that Francisco in fact had not appropriated the land in question, and was developing land he legally owned. Club K published Francisco’s right of reply correcting the record on February 6.
Reached by CPJ via phone, Francisco said he decided to proceed with the complaint anyway because he didn’t find the right of reply sufficient in light of the damage to his reputation, which included questions from business partners.
Pedro said he was charged with criminal defamation and insult, and that in the Angolan legal system, a charge does not automatically mean that the accused will stand trial; it is up to prosecutors to pursue the case.
According to the penal code, criminal defamation carries a sentence of up to a year and a half in jail or a variable fine at the discretion of the judge, and insult carries a sentence of up to a year in jail or a variable fine at the discretion of the judge.
There are six other ongoing criminal defamation investigations into Club K regarding different reports, Pedro said.
In a separate case, on May 19 SIC questioned José, director of Hora H, in relation to a complaint by the private Angolan Investment Bank (BAI) about a March 2019 article, reviewed by CPJ, that alleged that a former minister had transferred three million euros from his domestic bank account into his foreign one in Portugal with the authorization of BAI executive director Luis Lelis, according to José.
The outlet’s lawyer Freire told CPJ that José was told by SIC that the complaint alleged criminal defamation, but the journalist has not been formally charged.
Lelis confirmed by phone that BAI had filed criminal defamation complaints against several news outlets which he did not name. He told CPJ that BAI had done so because the allegations were false and he did not want his or the bank’s reputation damaged.
Neto, the editor of Manchete, confirmed that he was questioned by SIC in 2019 and charged with criminal defamation over his outlet’s report dealing with the same topic.
José told CPJ via phone that Hora H has been investigated 20 times in the last five years over criminal defamation complaints due to its reporting.
In a separate case, on May 24, Alberto, editor of A Denúncia, was questioned, including about his sources, for five hours by the SIC following the filing of a complaint against the journalist by Angolan Deputy Attorney General Luis Liz, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Alberto told CPJ that Liz filed the complaint with police on May 12 before the video was published on May 15. Alberto said he received three different summonses within 48 hours related to Liz’s complaint. He said he was charged with criminal defamation, injurious denunciation, and the violation of press freedom.
The charge of press freedom violation carries a penalty of up to six months in prison or a fine at the discretion of the judge; injurious denunciation carries a penalty of one to three years in prison or a fine at the discretion of the judge, according to the penal code.
Liz told CPJ by phone that he supported press freedom, but because Alberto had damaged his reputation he should get his day in court to present his proof or face the consequences. Liz added that there was an internal government investigation that exonerated him; CPJ reviewed a statement to that effect from the attorney general’s office issued May 18.
SIC director Arnaldo Carlos did not answer CPJ’s phone calls or a text via messaging app.