New York, March 17, 2023—Angolan authorities should stop harassing the privately owned Camunda News website and ensure that members of the press can work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Wednesday, March 15, the outlet suspended its operations indefinitely, according to media reports and the outlet’s owner, David Boio, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Boio told CPJ that the decision to shutter Camunda News, which covered current affairs on its website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel, came after months of government harassment.
“Angolan authorities must commit to the development of a free and independent media and refrain from harassing online outlets like Camunda News,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Instead of censorship through intimidation and archaic licensing requirements, the government should encourage a plurality of media to fulfill the public’s right to access information.”
In October 2022, officials with the police National Criminal Investigation Service, the SIC, questioned Boio about Nelson Dembo, an activist and co-host of the weekly current affairs show 360˚ aired on Camunda News’ YouTube and Facebook channels, Boio told CPJ.
Dembo is facing charges including incitement to rebellion and outrage against the president, and is presently in hiding, according to reports, which said he believes the charges against him are retaliation for his political activity.
Boio told CPJ that SIC officers had also summoned Camunda News senior reporter llídio Manuel and two other staff members in October. He declined to name those staffers for fear of their safety.
Subsequently, in February 2023, SIC officers called Boio to summon him for questioning as a potential state witness in Dembo’s case, according to Boio and those news reports. In that phone call, an investigator warned Boio that an arrest warrant would be issued if he failed to appear and instructed him to bring company documents related to Camunda News.
During three hours of questioning on March 7, Boio told CPJ that he was only asked one question about Dembo and that most of the questions were related to Camunda News, its legal status and funding, and his personal life.
Shortly after that questioning, Boio suspended Camunda News’ current affairs video content. On Wednesday, he suspended the entire platform, he said.
“The harassment and intimidation are getting to a point where it could lead to more serious problems, and we know how the system in Angola can be complicated and make up serious accusations, so I need to consider my safety as well as that of all others working at Camunda,” Boio told CPJ.
Manuel, the senior reporter summoned in October, told CPJ that he was unable to hire a lawyer in time and did not attend the questioning, and had not received another summons. He said no details of the case had been disclosed to him.
Boio told CPJ that in May 2020 an SIC investigator had arrived at Camunda News’ offices and asked about its ownership, and the following day the broadcaster received a notification from the Ministry of Telecommunications Technologies and Media requesting the documentation to prove the outlet was operating legally.
“We wrote back to the Ministry explaining that we couldn’t find the legal framework for online content such as what we produced,” Boio told CPJ.
“If we had a license, we would probably be treated the same way the TV channels that got cancelled did, but because there is no legal framework they use SIC to intimidate us,” Boio said. Authorities suspended three TV broadcasters in 2021.
Benja Satula, a lawyer representing Camunda News, told CPJ via messaging app that there is no legal framework covering online content platforms, so there could be no illegal activity warranting a criminal investigation.
SIC spokesperson Manuel Alaiwa responded to CPJ’s requests for comment by phone and messaging app saying that he would call later. He had not responded by the time of publication.
When CPJ called Ministry of Telecommunications Technologies and Media spokesperson João Demba for comment, he said the ministry could not comment because it was awaiting information from the SIC.
[Editors’ note: This article has been changed to correct the spelling of Nelson Dembo’s name.]