New York, October 6, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Angolan authorities to immediately release journalist Carlos Alberto, who was taken into custody on September 29 to serve a three-year prison sentence for criminal defamation, injurious denunciation, and violating press freedom.
Alberto appeared in the Luanda District Court on Monday, October 2, where he was told the court issued an arrest warrant because he failed to comply with a June 23, 2022, sentence handed down by the Supreme Court in connection to his May 15, 2021, report about the allegedly illegal appropriation of land for a shopping mall by then-deputy attorney general Luis Liz.
The Supreme Court dismissed Alberto’s appeal against a lower court ruling and sentenced him to a suspended three-year prison term, a fine of 350 million kwanzas (US$4,240), and an apology every 10 days for 60 days, according to Lucas and CPJ’s review of the ruling.
Lucas said he applied for the journalist’s release and clarification on the decision to arrest Alberto since the journalist met his obligations by apologizing and had inquired about instructions to pay the fine, but a court date has yet to be set. Alberto remains in detention at the Viana District prison center.
“Angolan authorities should immediately release journalist Carlos Alberto, who should never have been convicted and sentenced in the first place,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Angola’s colonial-era criminal defamation and insult laws should be repealed as a matter of urgency, especially as aggrieved parties can pursue other remedies for redress that do not criminalize journalism and jail reporters for their work.”
Two days before he was arrested on September 29, Alberto told CPJ that his arrest warrant was circulated on social media before authorities officially notified him or his lawyer, adding that he had written to the court in September asking about paying his fine in installments, but received no response.
“They didn’t reply, didn’t warn me about not following the sentence, and went straight for an arrest warrant,” Alberto told CPJ.
During his October 2 court appearance, Alberto told A Denúncia that his arrest at 8 p.m. on a Friday was aimed at derailing any attempt to free him before the weekend.
“We should be notified in case the court doubts Alberto has been fulfilling his sentence well ahead of a decision of deprivation of liberty,” Lucas told CPJ, adding that according to Article 53 of the penal code, an arrest should be the last resort.
Liz told CPJ via a messaging app that crimes against honor are protected by Angola’s penal code, so that was the avenue to “have restoration of the truth.”
“Alberto did irreparable damage to my reputation and had many opportunities to retract himself by apologizing,” Liz told CPJ. “He chose not to do so and complained about the judges instead. His arrest was a decision of the court. I did not want to see Alberto in prison. His fine will go straight for charity, but the truth needs to be out.”
Manuel Alaiwa, a spokesperson for the Criminal Investigation Service, confirmed the arrest and told CPJ that the officers were enforcing an arrest warrant issued by the court.