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Cablegate: Angolan Journalist Imprisoned for Defamation

VZCZCXRO9796
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHLU #1048 2881602
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151602Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY LUANDA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4367
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY

UNCLAS LUANDA 001048

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL AO
SUBJECT: ANGOLAN JOURNALIST IMPRISONED FOR DEFAMATION

REF: LUANDA 723

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On October 3, Graca Campos, the outspoken
director of the privately-owned weekly newspaper "Semanario
Angolense," was sentenced to eight months in prison (two
months more than the maximum legal sentence) and an
unprecedented 250,000 USD fine following his conviction on
defamation charges stemming from a 2001 case. Local civil
society (including NGOs and the media) are pressuring the GRA
and higher courts to review the Campos case, with some
success. While still too early to confirm, local civil
society groups caution that this could be the first in a
series of moves aimed at silencing critics in the run-up to
the elections. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Graca Campos and his weekly newspaper, Semanario
Angolense, are well-known in Angola for publishing critical
articles concerning GRA policies and leaders. The defamation
charges against Campos date back to 2001, when then Minister
of Justice (current Human Rights Ombudsman) Paulo Tjipilica
accused Campos of publishing defamatory articles alleging
embezzlement and the improper use his position to return
seized property to Portuguese citizens. The case against
Campos was suspended in 2003 but reactivated by Tjipilica in
2004 when the Minister accused Campos of continuing to
publish defamatory stories. No ruling on the case was made
for over three years, despite repeated requests by Campos'
legal team for a final determination.

3. (U) In the midst of Semanario Angolense's reporting on the
Miala trial in August 2007 (reftel), Tjipilica's case against
Campos came before a judge. Campos' attorney states his
client was not notified of the trial, and that Campos was out
of the country at the time the hearing was scheduled. Campos
was tried in absentia and found guilty. On October 3,
Campos, who claims he did not know he had already been
convicted, appeared before the court (thinking he was
arriving for opening arguments), received his eight month
sentence, and was remanded to jail immediately. Campos'
request for a suspended sentence pending appeal was denied by
the trial judge.

4. (U) Media and civil society groups reacted strongly to the
case's many irregularities. Private newspapers prominently
covered the case, with Semanario Angolense leading the
charge. Even the state-run daily newspaper Jornal de Angola,
which normally steers clear of issues critical of the GRA,
ran a front page article on a vigil organized for Campos by
human rights NGO Maos Livres. At least in part due to the
public pressure from civil society, the President of Luanda's
Provincial Court agreed to review Campos' case; his ruling is
expected by October 19.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: It is possible that a series of unfortunate
events make the Graca Campos case more about judicial
incompetence than media censorship. However, there are
reports surfacing that the government has also started legal
proceedings against David Mendes, a well known government
critic and human rights activist. Regardless if the GRA is
to blame for the excessive sentence and fine handed down to
Campos, the decision will have a chilling affect on
journalists who already acknowledge they practice
self-censorship to avoid government action. While the
reaction of local NGOs to the Campos case is encouraging, the
fact that other government critics may be facing legal action
bears monitoring. END COMMENT.
FERNANDEZ

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