Father Alberto Java (left), director for the Catholic Church-run Radio Ecclésia Huambo, and two reporters, Diamantino Sangueve (center) and José Kalembe (right), were questioned by Angolan police as part of a January 2022 criminal defamation and insult complaint. (Flaviana Samba)

Angolan journalists questioned in criminal defamation complaint over gun trafficking report

Two reporters, José Kalembe and Diamantino Sangueve from the Catholic Church-run Radio Ecclésia Huambo, and its director, Father Alberto Java, were questioned by Angolan police on January 6 and 26 as part of a criminal defamation and insult complaint following a report about a local police commandant’s alleged dealings in arms trafficking, according to the journalists, who spoke to CPJ by phone, and media reports.

On December 3, 2021, Sangueve broadcast his report, which was based on the testimony of two residents, about the alleged illegal actions of a policeman in Huambo, known by his nickname “Commandant Tabaco.”

The first source in Sangueve’s report was a former prison inmate who had been arrested in possession of police weapons. According to the source, “Tabaco” sold rifles and ammunition to him and eight others for about 55,000 kwanzas (US$110) each. The other source said that “Tabaco” ordered that she be beaten over a dispute with another woman, whom she claimed was the policeman’s girlfriend.

Later on December 3, Kalembe aired a three-hour long current affairs talk show in the local Umbundu language, included discussion about Sagueve’s news report and allowed listeners to phone in and comment, he told CPJ.

On December 4, 2021, “Tabaco,” who was not in uniform, and three other men who were also in plain clothes, visited the radio station and demanded to see Kalembe, according to Sangueve and Radio Ecclésia administrative assistant, Paulo Ngila, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

“Tabaco” was very angry and insisted that Radio Ecclésia should never have broadcast the allegations against him, Ngila told CPJ, adding that he had told the policeman that Kalembe was not in the office and that he should complain in writing to the radio’s administration.

Martinho Satito, a spokesperson for the police in Huambo, told CPJ by phone that a criminal defamation investigation was opened after the commandant filed a complaint against Radio Ecclésia and its journalists.

Satito declined to give “Tabaco’s” full name, stating his right to the presumption of innocence, and said he could not comment on what police questioned the journalists about, but that the police reacted swiftly to the news report by opening an internal investigation into the commandant the day after the broadcast. The investigation is still ongoing. 

On January 6, police officers questioned Java and Kalembe about the report and their sources, saying the station should have waited for the police’s comment before airing the report, the journalist and Java told CPJ. On January 26, Sangueve was questioned by officers about the contact information of the former prisoner who spoke about “Tabaco’s” actions, he told CPJ, adding that the journalists were surprised to receive the notification to appear for questioning, since they sought comment from police prior to the broadcast airing.

Satito confirmed to CPJ that he visited the radio station before the broadcast and received a copy of the interview of the former inmate and promised to give the outlet comment. The journalists told CPJ they waited 48 hours, as Satito told them they would have a comment in less than 24 hours, before broadcasting the report. Satito says they only waited 24 hours before broadcasting, although he could not confirm to CPJ which day he went to the radio station.

Sangueve told CPJ that he and Java were named as witnesses in the investigation and Kalembe was declared an “arguido,” a Portuguese legal classification in which people become formal suspects in the commission of a crime, and can be a preliminary step to an arrest or formal charge. It is unclear why authorities have designated Kalembe as an arguido, the journalists told CPJ.

According to Kalembe’s lawyer, António Pelage, the criminal investigation service in Huambo forwarded its investigation to the local prosecutor’s office for a decision on whether to formally charge his client. “The investigator told us that the journalists should wait for a new notification,” Pelage told CPJ. 

Criminal defamation carries a sentence of up to a year and a half in jail or a fine at the discretion of the judge, according to the lawyer and the penal code. Insult carries a year in jail or a similar discretionary fine.

Reached by phone on February 22, “Tabaco” declined to state his full name, and told CPJ he had gone to the station to ask Kalembe about his source because the allegations affected him professionally and personally. He also said he would not retract the complaint because it had damaged his reputation and that he could not comment further because he wanted the matter to be decided in court.