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Journalist gets one year in prison for defamation

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, March 3, 2011 - A court in Angola's southwestern province of Namibe sent a journalist to prison today without due process over his coverage of a sexual harassment scandal that implicated the province's top judicial official, according to local journalists and news reports.

Judge Manuel Araujo sentenced Armando José Chicoca, a freelancer who reports for U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) and private Angolan newspapers such as Folha 8, Agora, and O Apostolado, to one year in prison and a fine of 200,000 kwanza (US$2,100), according to news reports.

The journalist was taken to Comarca Prison in the coastal city of Namibe after sentencing, defense lawyer David Mendes told CPJ. Chicoca was sentenced without a lawyer present, Mendes added, saying he would appeal the ruling.

Chicoca's conviction for libel and defamation under Angola's criminal code was based on a lawsuit brought by Antonio Vissandula, presiding judge of the Provincial Court of Namibe, over a 2007 report aired on VOA about claims made to local media by Rosa Camunu José. Formerly Vissandula's housemaid, José claimed that he fired her because she rebuffed his sexual advances, according to Mendes. Vissandula also accused Chicoca of being the author of an anonymous comment accusing him of corruption posted below a story on the scandal on popular Portugal-based Angolan critical news Website Club-K. Vissandula also brought a suit against José for defamation; she received a 45-day suspended prison sentence and a two-year probation period, according to him.

"Armando José Chicoca has been sent to prison without due process for reporting on alleged misconduct by a judge," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "This conviction is highly suspect and should be overturned on appeal."

Previously, Chicoca spent 33 days in prison in 2007 after police arrested him while he was reporting on protests against the demolition of a street market, according to CPJ research.

In ongoing moves toward restricting press freedom and inducing self-censorship, Angola's ruling MPLA recently passed a state security law criminalizing any "words, images, writings, or sound" that insult the president, the state, or official institutions," according to CPJ research.
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