Freedom of the Press
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Media in Angola operate in a restrictive environment. Conditions remained poor in 2014, which was marked by defamation cases against journalists and the closure of one of the country’s last remaining independent newspapers.
While the constitution protects freedom of speech and of the press, laws regarding state security and insult hamper the free activities of the media. A 2010 state security law allows for the detention of persons who “insult” the Republic of Angola or the president in “public meetings or by disseminating words, images, writings, or sound.” Defamation and libel are crimes punishable by imprisonment. In 2013, the government introduced a new draft criminal code, expected to be approved in 2015, that would further restrict freedom of expression by broadening the scope of what is considered criminal defamation and insult and retaining imprisonment as a punishment.
The government has used these laws to harass members of the independent media. In August 2014, a group of generals brought a criminal defamation case against Rafael Marques de Morais, claiming $1.2 million in damages. This was the latest in a series of lawsuits connected to Marques’s 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, in which he accused several military officers of engaging in torture and other human rights violations in collusion with private mining companies. Marques was scheduled to appear in court in mid-December 2014, but the court session was postponed due to difficulties in summoning witnesses for court appearances. The same group of generals in 2012 had filed a criminal defamation case against Marques and his Portuguese publisher, Tinta da China, in Portugal; the complaint was dismissed in February 2013, but a separate civil case, filed in Lisbon in March 2013, has yet to be resolved. In another case, in November 2014, William Tonet was charged with defamation and libel over stories on the 2012 assassination of two opposition activists by security forces that were published in the weekly Folha 8, of which he is director and owner. The development reportedly marked the 98th time Tonet has faced charges over material published in Folha 8.
In February, Queirós Anastácio Chilúvia of the opposition-funded Radio Despertar was held without charge for five days and eventually handed a six-month suspended jail sentence after being convicted of defamation, offending the police, and operating illegally as a journalist. The episode was prompted by a live news broadcast in which Chilúvia had reported on cries for help emanating from a police station; he then entered the station to procure a statement from police and was arrested. The pleas he heard were reportedly from inmates being held at the station, who were seeking help for a prisoner who had fallen gravely ill and who later died.
Angola enacted a freedom of information law in 2002, ostensibly granting citizens access to government-generated documents. However, accessing information remains extremely difficult in practice for independent journalists and news organizations without government ties, and key parts of the legislation, such as the creation of a monitoring commission, have not been implemented.
President José Eduardo dos Santos’s ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) continues to give preferential treatment to state-owned media and has been known to bar access to journalists covering opposition events. Interviews with top politicians and state officials, as well as access to information related to the government, are usually granted only to progovernment or state-run outlets. Such outlets tend to either ignore opposition activities or report unfavorably on them. Outlets openly critical of the government can face pressure. In June 2014, the minister of geology and mines filed a formal complaint with Angola’s National Council for Social Communication, an advisory body dealing with media standards, claiming that the weekly Machete had implicated him in corrupt behavior without allowing him the right of reply. The council dismissed the complaint in August, but requested that Machete permit the minister a column in which he could defend his actions.
Self-censorship by journalists at both state-run and private outlets is commonplace in the coercive environment created by the government and security forces, and has even extended to Portugal, where oil wealth has allowed large Angolan investments in media and other companies.
The sudden closure of Semanário Angolense by its unknown new owners in December 2014 leaves Folha 8 as Angola’s only remaining private, independent newspaper with significant circulation.
While harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment of journalists were less common in 2014 than during the previous year, coverage of sensitive subjects like antigovernment protests, human rights violations, or corruption among government officials remains risky. Journalist Sedrick de Carvalho claimed that Angolan police officers, at an antigovernment demonstration held in November 2014, confiscated his phone just before police began to beat the demonstrators. He said the phone was later returned. Separately, journalists operating in the restive northern province of Cabinda, where a separatist movement is active, have faced harassment by security forces in recent years.
No journalists were known to have been murdered in 2014. However, Luanda-based Guinea-Bissau journalist Milocas Pereira, who disappeared in 2012 after reporting on possible Angolan military involvement in a coup in Guinea-Bissau, was still missing at year’s end.
The government both owns and keeps tight control over the largest media outlets in the country. The state-owned newspaper, Jornal de Angola, and television channel, Televisão Publica de Angola (TPA), remain the most widely accessed media sources, and together with state-owned Radio National de Angola (RNA) they are the only outlets with a truly national reach. While around a dozen privately owned newspapers operate, most are owned by individuals with connections to the government or ruling party and are distributed primarily in urban areas. Blogs such as Marques’s Maka Angola and the news portal Club-K also report critically on the MPLA regime. Privately owned radio stations are not allowed to use repeaters to extend their broadcast signals outside their home province; they must instead open a new station in every province in which they wish to broadcast, making private radio penetration outside Luanda extremely limited. Internet penetration in Angola is rather low, at 21 percent of the population in 2014, largely concentrated in urban areas. Legislation was passed in September for Angola to begin managing its own .ao internet domain beginning in 2015. Currently the domain is managed in Portugal.
Denial of state and private advertising as a method of pressuring independent news outlets continues to be a problem. Authorities and private owners have occasionally seized entire editions of newspapers that carried stories critical of the government.