Journalist Ramiro Aleixo on Trial

Angolan journalist Ramiro Aleixo’s trial is scheduled to start on May 11, 2012, at the Luanda Provincial Court. At issue is an editorial Mr. Aleixo wrote in the newspaper Kesongo, in 2007, about General Miala’s case.

Mr. Aleixo, formerly the director and owner of the weekly Kesongo, told Maka Angola that he only found out about the notification to be present in court through a notice published in Jornal de Angola. The journalist has not received any formal notification from the authorities.

In September 2007, Mr. Aleixo published an editorial denouncing the mock trial of the former Director of the Exterior Information Services, General Fernando Garcia Miala, and three of his staff members. The defendants were convicted for the crime of insubordination and sentenced to jail.

In the editorial, Mr. Aleixo voiced his outrage at what he considered to be a manipulation of the judicial system, conducted by the Angolan president for political purposes. The journalist alleged that president José Eduardo dos Santos had been incapable of proving an attempted coup by general Miala, the initial accusation that lead to the general’s ousting and incarceration.  Therefore, the journalist concluded, the president resorted to the judicial system to punish the general.

The Attorney General and former Military Attorney General, General João Maria de Sousa, has pressed charges against the journalist, accusing him of tarnishing the “image, name, reputation, respectability and prestige of the Military Supreme Court and of the Military Attorney General, as well as the honor of the judges of that institution.”

Exercising his right to freedom of speech, Mr. Aleixo, a veteran of independent journalism in Angola, used his editorial to denounce the subservience of justice to political influence in the country.

Upon its launch, Kesongo soon became the most read newspaper in the center-south region of Angola, but it was only able to publish ten issues in print. Right after the publication of Mr. Aleixo’s editorial, the Criminal Investigation Provincial Directorate (DPIC) called him in for questioning. Under pressure, he decided to discontinue the newspaper’s publication. Therefore, one of the few plural media outlets in Angola was silenced.  “It was my understanding that the country didn’t have, after all, conditions for the full exercise of freedom of the press,” Mr. Aleixo justified.

The paper, which printed about 5,000 weekly copies and had some 20 staff and free-lancers, was distributed in Benguela, Kwanza Sul, Huambo and the capital Luanda.

This case will certainly draw public attention as it shows that the exercise of freedom of press and of expression continue to be targets of political persecution. Angola ranks as number 132 in the world’s index of press freedom, having dropped 28 positions since the previous year. Recently, during the celebrations of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the Angolan Journalists’ Union called for more freedom, independence and pluralism in the country.