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Authorities block activists on way to parallel SADC summit

Journalist Joana Macie's Angola visa
Journalist Joana Macie's Angola visa

Joana Macie via CPJ

In an apparent restriction on free expression, journalists and activists trying to participate in activities planned around last week's summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Luanda, Angola, were denied entry to the country, report the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch. A parallel civil society forum was also cancelled.

Since 11 August, Angola has denied entry to at least 17 members of southern African NGOs seeking to participate in the 7th Civil Society Forum of SADC, a meeting usually held in tandem with SADC summit meetings. The authorities have also confiscated human rights reports from Zimbabwean activists, report the members.

Authorities suddenly cancelled the civil society forum for unspecified "security reasons". The forum was scheduled to feature discussions on governance, accountability, media freedom, and access to information - "domains in which Angola lags behind," CPJ said.

Journalists Joana Macie and Manuel Cossa from Mozambique were also barred from entering the country on 11 August, allegedly because they lacked the proper entry visas, report MISA, CPJ and Human Rights Watch. They had been invited to take part in a workshop on economic reporting and gender.

CPJ reports that in a statement dated 12 August, three prominent southern African civil society organisations called on the leaders of the SADC member states to withhold the rotating presidency of the organisation from Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, who is the incoming SADC chair.

"We strongly believe that Angola does not deserve to chair SADC until they have resolved their internal democratic deficits, lack of transparency, and continued repression of civil society voices," the statement said.

Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) sent separate letters urging SADC leaders to address a number of pressing human rights concerns at the meeting, including the lack of freedom of expression and assembly; the repression of recent anti-government demonstrations in Malawi, Swaziland, and Angola; and the continuing political violence and "alarming" increase of press freedom violations in Zimbabwe.

"Keeping civil society from sharing their concerns with SADC leaders and keeping journalists from reporting on what the leaders discuss is no way to show leadership in the region," said Human Rights Watch. "Angola needs to invite the journalists and civil society leaders to come back, return the reports, and welcome their interest and participation."

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