afrol.com, 15 January - The African media watchdog MISA and the Angolan Sindicato dos Jornalistas Angolanos strongly protest against growing violations of press freedom in Angola. A new case, were Angolan police confiscates journalists' passports, makes the organisations take action.
It has now passed one month since Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais' passport was confiscated by Immigration officials, making it impossible for him to travel outside the country. When contacted by MISA, Marques insisted that the action was politically motivated, coming from "the highest Government ranks".
Marques expressed concern over the continued financial support (to the Angolan government) and "complacency" on issues of good governance by the international community. "Such complacency gives credibility to this government which continues to crush civil society and disregard the rule of law," he said. "By hitting hard on me they (government) send out a signal to other journalists not to defy the status quo," he continues. Continued attempts by Marques to retrieve his passport have yielded no success.
On March 31, 2000 Angolan journalist Rafael Marques along with the director of the independent weekly "Agora", Anguear dos Santos, were convicted of defaming President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. A third accused, Antonio de Freitas, the chief editor of "Agora", was acquitted.
Marques and dos Santos were both convicted of defaming, injuring and slandering the President, while Marques was convicted on an additional charge of defaming, injuring and slandering the Angolan Attorney General, Domingos Culolo. Marques was sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of Kwanzas 100,000 (about US$ 20,000), while dos Santos was sentenced to two months in prison and a fine. Both sentences have been suspended pending an appeal. Both journalists have been restricted, in terms of the judgement, from speaking or writing about anything related to the "crime", and from travelling outside the country.
The trial of the three journalists began on March 21, but was held largely in secret. The trial and charges stemmed from an article written by Marques and which appeared in "Agora" in July last year. In the article, Marques referred to Dos Santos as a dictator. On October 16 last year, Marques was detained in connection with these charges. He was held in prison for 41 days and was only formerly charged shortly before being released.
The Provincial and Supreme Court in Luanda on December 11 ordered the National Emigration Police to lift the travel restrictions imposed on journalists Rafael Marques, Aguiar dos Santos and António Freitas. However, less than a day after the court's ruling, the border police on December 12 refused to allow Marques to leave the country and instead confiscated his passport.
The order by the Supreme Court to lift the travel restrictions against the three journalists came after several appeals and petitions to the court by Marques, who argued that the restrictions were a violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which are applied in Angola through Article 21 of the Constitution.
Never-the-less, on November 12 Marques was stopped by emigration police at Luanda Airport from boarding a plane and was told that they had strict instructions not to allow him to leave the country. He passport was subsequently confiscated and he was told to go home.
The Independent Union of Journalists and MISA-Angola today issued a statement saying they "are concerned with the arrogant attitude of the Immigration Services in confiscating journalists' passports, allegedly in obedience of superior orders."
The Independent Union of Journalists and MISA-Angola also bring to light the case of journalist Gilberto Neto who, last year, had his passport confiscated for over eight months, as well as the travel bans against journalists William Tonet, Aguiar dos Santos, Gustavo Costa and António Freitas. "To date, the Government authorities are yet to clarify the true motivations behind such arbitrary decisions," the media organisations inform, demanding that the Government must "take immediate measures to end such practices that violate the journalist's right to press freedom and the freedom of expression and of movement."
The cases of passport confiscations of Angolan journalists come in a period of severe backlashes in the media situation in the country. Censorship has increased markedly during the last year and the harassment and intimidation of journalists and media by state officials is growing to levels only known in autocratic dictatorships.
MISA Angola urges concerned citizens to take action against the deteriorating
media situation in Angola by writing protest letters to President Eduardo dos Santos. A pre-written letter, with addresses and fax numbers needed can be found on MISA's web site
Source: Based on Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)