Angola: Harassment of Journalists continue unabated
on the ocupied Oil Rich Cabinda Province waves against journalists

Cabinda - In October 31 2000, local journalist Francisco Fino organized a religious ceremony to pay homage to deceased journalist António Casimiro, murdered on the same date of 1996.

An outspoken priest, Jorge Casimiro Congo, celebrated a mass in memory of António Casimiro. Francisco Fino, at the time chief-editor-in-charge of the Public Television of Angola (TPA) in Cabinda, edited the television coverage of the event and decided to air it. However, TPA - Cabinda director, Francisco José, alerted with the fact went into the newsroom and confiscated the cassette.

He alleged that the material could not be aired by Francisco Fino, because he was suspected of being a member of a small opposition party Front for Democracy (FpD). Francisco José added that priest Jorge Casimiro Congo was banned from speaking or being seen in the state controlled media, especially on TPA. The director went further by threatening to expel the journalist from TPA.

A group of journalists had notified local government authorities of their initiative to organize a march in memory of António Casimiro, in October 31 2000, but the authorities prohibited the march.

António Casimiro had denounced a case of plundering of public funds in Cabinda, in which he implicated local government official Francisco Raúl Rocha. Days before António Casimiro was murdered, Francisco Raúl da Rocha threatened the journalist to death by pointing a handgun at him in an official public ceremony.

To date, the case remains in silence, despite the promises made by the minister of Social Communication, Hendrick Vaal Neto, that the assassins would be brought to justice. Also, the support promised by the government to the family - wife and six children of António Casimiro, has been ignored.

In August 26 2000, MPLA Dictator Comrade José Eduardo dos Santos visited Cabinda and there he inaugurated an unfinished health post in the village of Chinga. The local population denounced, to TPA-Cabinda, that the equipment installed in the health post had been temporarily borrowed from Hospital "1º de Maio" only for the president's inauguration and then immediately returned back. To the utter dismay of the population, thirty minutes before the president's arrival in Chinga, painters were still finishing to paint the walls of the health post.

Journalist Francisco Fino aired the material and reported that the population was unhappy and frustrated for not being able to voice their discontent directly to the president.
For his daringness, Francisco Fino was suspended for a week from TPA-Cabinda, and demanded that he "clean up" the images of Cabinda governor, Amaro Tati and provincial delegate of Health.

In reply, Franscico Fino stated that the most he could do was to interview the provincial delegate of Health who could then give his own version of the event. Francisco Fino declared that he would not "clean up" anyone's image, because all he did was to air people's reactions.  For refusing to "clean  up" anyone's image he was accused of having coerced the population to speak out. As the authorities learnt that Francisco Fino was about to denounce the pressure on him to Voice of America, the authorities gave him his job back, however, with a string of warnings.

"Voice of America" stringer in Cabinda, Manuel da Costa, has been under constant harassment by the local authorities since he reported on a women's march in protest against the military drafting of their children.

In August 16 2000, a group of police officers beat up Manuel da Costa. The journalist was driving from his home to the village of Cabasango (4 kms. away from the center of Cabinda) to interview priest Bernabé Lello, who had been beaten up by a sergeant of Cabinda Military Regional Command.

The police officers, which were patrolling in a police car coded 009, pulled the journalist off the road and asked for his documents. According to Manuel da Costa, the officers' breath smelled of alcohol and, suspiciously, he asked them to identify themselves first, as they did not bear the signs of police officers on duty.

"I was suddenly hit on the face with such violence that I could not tell whether I had been hit by a punch or a gun. From then on I became a punching bag. Fortunately, some passers by recognized my car and insisted that the police officers stop beating me up. A traffic police officer came in and told his colleagues that their actions was illegal, but I was already in very bad shape, bleeding and with the face swallowed. I had to stay in bed for 16 days," said Manuel da Costa.

The journalist filed a complaint against the police officers at the Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation (DPIC), but the case died there. "They did not do anything. Only the religious authorities, including Cabinda Bishop Paulino Madeca, provided me with some moral comfort," explained the journalist.

In May 28 2000, Manuel da Costa went to a party in celebration of Cabinda's Day, and there he encountered troubles. Six men forced him out of the party despite his physical resistance, and in front of a police officer that was guarding the event, refused to help him. He was taken to a nearby place and severely beaten up again in the midst of questioning. Manuel da Costa stated that one of the aggressors told him that "we can kill you and nothing will happen to us. We have lots of influences. Do you know why are you here?" The journalist recognized the two police officers, Miranda and Xota.

A passer-by noticed the incident and went to seek help. Meanwhile, Manuel da Costa begged for forgiveness for whatever he did wrong. As the aggressors relaxed, the journalist vowed to take them to court, and thus the beating session continued until he promised to forget the case completely.

"Despite the death threats, I went to file a complaint to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (DPIC). They told me that I needed a medical check up as evidence of the aggression against me. DPIC sent an investigator along with me to witness the check up. The doctor checked me and gave the medical report to the investigator. He told me that my left eye was in grave condition and that I had to seek proper medical care to avoid blindness on the left eye."

"On the next day, DPIC called my aggressors for questioning, but on the second day the case died out. The investigators told me nonsense. In fact they let me know that if I pursued the case any further then I would have to pay the consequences."

Over 500 women took to the streets early in 1999, to protect their children's lives from a war they consider unjustifiable. While Manuel da Costa was covering the event, a young man close to him was already being questioned and brutally beaten up by the police. They mistaken him for Manuel da Costa and did not waste their time in verifying if they were addressing the right person.

In December 1999, Cabinda governor, Amaro Tati introduced Manuel da Costa to the Minister of Interior, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos as the "Voice of America stringer."

"The minister called me a daring and curious journalist, who was sticking out his neck," said Manuel da Costa who also added "ironically the governor of Cabinda told me that I was daring to win the "Maboque Prize" (an annual Angolan prize for journalists).

"In response, the minister of Interior told me to watch out to ensure that instead of the prize I did not receive a casket in its place, because one needs to be very careful," stated the journalist. Manuel da Costa claims that he is still seen as a "persona non-grata" in Cabinda and prevented from covering some official events.

Days prior to the minister's visit to Cabinda, Manuel da Costa reported for Voice of America, as a stringer, a demonstration against the military drafting. According to the journalist, TPA-Cabinda director, out of his way, warned him that "by myself I would beat the hell out of you, and make you vanish from this planet" for "attempting against State security."

For Manuel da Costa: "What is happening with the journalists in Cabinda is because they don't have any defence. They are limited. They are unable to denounce the harassments inflicted upon them or the authoritarian behaviour of the media directors. Journalists humiliate themselves in order to keep the bread for their families, but miserable bread at that!" He decided to face the risk and speak out on behalf of his colleagues.

Rafael Marques
(Berlin - Germany)