The 20-year civil war between the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (Unita) has drained most of the country’s economic resources. It also enables the authorities to justify the absence of real democracy and especially to maintain total control over information. President Eduardo dos Santos, who has an aversion to criticism, is considered by Reporters Without Borders to be one of the world’s predators of press freedom.
There are many Angolan political parties but they are divided and often caught up in internal quarrelling. The media therefore constitute the main voice of opposition, seen as a real threat by the authorities. Even though the total circulation of the country’s four main weeklies is under 20,000, this is enough for the authorities to brand the press as a trouble-maker. These publications also have huge financial difficulties. Potential advertisers prefer avoiding problems with the authorities and therefore choose to buy space in state-owned media.
Rafael Marques, an independent journalist sentenced to six months in jail in 2000 for "libel" against the state president, believes that one cannot talk of "press freedom unless all the media have an independent editorial policy. This is not about to happen [in Angola] because the state-controlled press is anachronistic and totally devoted to political propaganda". The following example, among others, clearly illustrates his statement. In early 2001 the independent press reported a Unita attack on the Benguela airport, about 500 km south of Luanda. At the same time, public radio and television announced that the persons responsible for the attack were stock thieves.
On 29 March three journalists’ associations (the Angolan Journalists’ Union, the Journalists’ Cooperative, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa) asked for an amendment to the 1992 press law. The three organisations proposed that journalists be granted the possibility to prove facts reported during a trial, and that jail sentences for libel against the head of State be abolished.
One journalist killed
On the evening of 8 July 2001 Alegria Gustavo, journalist with the national radio station RNA, was shot dead by Matias Kassoma, vice-administrator of Huambo province in central Angola. Friends of the journalist who witnessed the scene beat up the murderer, leaving him in a critical state. On 1 January 2002 Matias Kassoma is still detained in the Huambo jail. His act has not been explained. In a letter dated 17 October to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the state prosecutor affirmed that this crime had no "political motive".
One journalist arrested
Gilberto Neto, reporter for the weekly Folha 8, was arrested on 7 July 2001 in Malange in northern Angola in the company of a French researcher. The two men had gone to Malange a few days earlier to investigate the consequences of the war in that region and to do a report on the subject. Two policemen accompanied them by aeroplane to Luanda where they were handed over to agents of the DNIC, the criminal investigation department. All their equipment (portable computers, tape recorders, cameras, etc.), as well as their identity documents and press card were confiscated. Gilberto Neto and the researcher were released on the same day. On 11 July the journalist was again summoned by the DNIC which accused him of going to Malange without authorisation from the governor.
One journalist attacked
On 22 February 2001 two men broke into the home of Isaias Soares, correspondent for Voice of America and Radio Ecclesia, and opened fire. The journalists’ two brothers, both policemen, retaliated and the two assailants fled. Isaias Soares was not injured in the attack. Shortly before that the journalist had published reports on problems of crime in the area. People living in the neighbourhood told him that gangs were looking for him.
One journalist threatened
On 22 June 2001 André Mussamo, correspondent in the northern province Cuanza Norte for the weekly Folha 8, received a death threat by anonymous callers. They accused him of being a spy for Unita and said that if the rebel movement returned to the region the journalist would be killed.
Pressure and obstruction
On 3 April seven journalists from three Portuguese television channels (RTP, SIC, TVI) were expelled by the authorities from Cabinda (an enclave in the north of Angola). The journalists were reporting on the different independence movements in the area. The Portuguese government protested officially to the Angolan foreign affairs minister against this decision.
On 9 June the governor of Lunda Norte province in northern Angola ordered the suspension of the programme "Ponto de vista" ("Point of view") on the regional state-owned station Emissora Provincial. The authorities claimed that this programme was "against the government". "Ponta de vista" was a programme of debate on social, political and military issues. It was the station’s most popular programme.
In July a group of journalists in the northern province of Cuanza Norte sent a protest letter to the regional prosecutor. The journalists (Silvino Fortunato and Afonso Garcia from the official agency Angop, António Soboca, Florentino Setilla and Marcos Bernardo from the state television channel TPA, Joaquim Kissanga, António Kalunga and Rodrigo Fontoura from the national radio station RNA, and André Mussamo from Folha 8) said that the authorities had accused them of collaborating with Unita-Renovada, the official branch of the armed movement.
Justin Pearce, BBC correspondent, and Rafael Marques, freelance journalist, were expelled on 8 July from the Boavista district on the outskirts of Luanda. The two journalists wanted to report on an operation in which thousands of residents of Luanda were rehoused in the suburbs. After being threatened verbally and physically, the journalists were taken aside and their films confiscated. Rafael Marques was held at the local police station for an hour. Mora Jorge, journalist with Radio Ecclesia, was also prevented from covering the event.
Radio Ecclesia temporarily suspended its programmes on 9 July and broadcast only religious music and calls to prayer. The station indicated that this was its own choice to avoid possible closure by the authorities. In the preceding days the government had systematically attacked Radio Ecclesia via the public media. The state-owned daily Jornal de Angola accused the privately-owned Catholic station of being an "instrument of subversion". A few days later the radio station resumed its normal programmes.
On 18 August Gilberto Neto, journalist with Folha 8, was prevented from leaving the country and the authorities confiscated his passport. He was to go to London to follow a course in journalism at the Reuters Foundation. A government official informed him that this prohibition was related to his arrest in September 1999 when he was accused of writing an article on a police raid on the Radio Ecclesia head office.
President José Eduardo dos Santos has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders