Nairobi, October 3, 2023—Authorities in Angola must drop charges of criminal defamation and insult against journalist Daniel Frederico and stop criminalizing his reporting, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Tuesday.
Last week, a district court in the Angolan capital Luanda summoned Frederico, editor of news portal Reporter Angola who publishes under the pen name Daniel Jonas Pensador, to appear on October 4, 2023, on charges of criminal defamation and insult, according to the journalist and his lawyer António Martins, both of whom spoke to CPJ via phone and messaging app.
The charges are linked to a 2022 report published by another new site, Angola Online, denouncing alleged corruption by a prosecutor, Pedro Machado, according to Frederico and Martins. Frederico told CPJ that police summoned him in March, April, and May 2022 to answer questions in connection with the report. The journalist said he was not the author of the Angola Online report, but said that he had called Machado last year seeking comment because he planned to write his own report about the corruption allegations but later abandoned the idea after speaking to Machado.
“Authorities in Angola should stop wasting public resources by pursuing a criminal case against Daniel Frederico for a report he did not write, in transparent retaliation for his journalism,” said CPJ sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Officials should stop harassing him in connection to his work, and repeal the country’s regressive criminal defamation and insult laws.”
If convicted of criminal defamation, Frederico risks up to 1.5 years in prison or a fine whose amount is decided at the discretion of the court, according to the penal code. The offense of insult carries a sentence of up to one year in prison or a fine that is also at the judge’s discretion.
Frederico told CPJ he believed the criminal defamation case re-emerged in retaliation for his recent radio interviews criticizing his September 16 arrest while covering a demonstration against planned traffic restrictions against motorcycle taxis in Luanda.
The journalist, who was detained alongside six other people, remained behind bars until September 20, when he was released following acquittal on charges of disobeying authority and offenses against the president, according to lawyer Zola Bambi, who represented the journalist in the matter and spoke to CPJ via phone. Following his release, Frederico appeared in several local radio stations, discussing human rights violations he witnessed during his time behind bars.
According to the journalist, two agents of the Criminal Investigation Service, known by its acronym SIC, threatened him on September 27 when he went to reclaim his phone that had been confiscated during the September 16 arrest.
“I’ve been reporting that I saw children as young as 12 in prison cells amongst adults for crimes such as stealing cookies, and a few days later, my lawyers got notified of this hearing of criminal defamation: it’s not a coincidence,” Frederico said. “Agents of Criminal Investigation services told me I would not get away the next time.”
Four activists arrested alongside Frederico on September 16 were convicted and sentenced to two years and five months in prison, according to Bambi and a report by the Portuguese news site Observador. Bambi believes that authorities wanted to set an example with the arrests on September 16 in order to “quell demonstrations against the state.”
When CPJ reached Machado via telephone call on Tuesday, he said he was driving. His phone was switched off when CPJ called him subsequently, and queries sent via text message and messaging application went unanswered. Álvaro João, spokesperson for the office of the prosecutor general in Angola, told CPJ, via phone call, that he could not comment on an ongoing case.
Angolan journalists have faced criminal insult and defamation proceedings in the past several years.