Angola Journalist William Tonet's Home Invaded By Gunman As Defamation Case Continues

New York — Angolan authorities should credibly investigate a break-in at the home of prominent journalist William Tonet and drop the criminal defamation charges he faces, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

A man armed with a pistol broke into Tonet's home in the capital, Luanda, at around 4 a.m. on April 27, according to the journalist who spoke to CPJ, media reports, and a statement by the local union Syndicate of Angolan Journalists (SJA).

Tonet, director and editor of the privately owned newspaper Folha 8, said he was awake when the intruder came into his bedroom, and the journalist shouted at him, causing the man to flee and escape in a white Toyota vehicle waiting outside.

Tonet said he did not file a police complaint because he does not "trust authorities in Angola," citing the "inadequate" police response to a June 6, 2023, fire that destroyed the Folha 8 office in Luanda and the subsequent investigations that "came up empty." Twelve film cameras, seven still cameras, and editing equipment, all worth around US$50,000, were destroyed in the blaze.

Tonet told CPJ that he is separately facing a criminal defamation and insult case following a complaint by a former judge over a 2020 report by Folha 8. Criminal defamation carries up to 1.5 years in prison, while insult carries up to one year, according to the penal code.

"Between a fire at his Folha 8 newsroom last year, the April 2024 break-in at his

home, and the prospect of prison time over criminal defamation charges,

Angolan newspaper journalist William Tonet seems besieged on all sides," said

CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Muthoki Mumo, in Accra. "Authorities must take steps to ensure that Tonet and other critical journalists do not operate in an environment of fear and legal persecution."

Tonet said he did not think the man was a "common thief" because several valuables in the house were left untouched, and he seemed to have a planned exit. The break-in occurred two months after Tonet returned to Angola after receiving medical treatment in Portugal.

Luzia Sebastião, a former judge in Angola's Constitutional Court of the Republic, filed a criminal defamation and insult complaint against Tonet in connection to a June 2020 report, which cited a book alleging that the judge was implicated in a massacre that killed thousands in the aftermath of the May 27, 1977, political crisis. Folha 8 published an article in July 2020 in which Sebastião denied the allegations.

The case was adjourned on November 23, 2023, after Tonet's lawyer submitted a request to delay the proceedings to allow Tonet to travel abroad for treatment, the journalist told CPJ. A new court date has yet to be set.

Sebastião told CPJ that she "agrees with the decriminalization of defamation defended by CPJ" but said, "it is currently the only legal avenue to seek redress in effect in Angola." She said she would not comment further on a case that is before a court.

Tonet and Folha 8 have faced over 100 defamation cases since the paper was founded in 1996, according to the journalist and a 2014 news report by the German public broadcaster DW.

"While investigations and accusations can be idle for years, they can be reopened at any point if it is in the interest of those in power," Tonet told CPJ.

In 2011, a court convicted Tonet on a criminal libel charge and handed him a one-year suspended sentence.

In 2012, police raided the Folha 8 offices amid an investigation into offenses of "outrage against the state" after the newspaper published a satirical photo montage of the country's president and vice president.

Nestor Goubel, spokesperson of the national police in Luanda, told CPJ that he could not comment but would seek information on the break-in at Tonet's home and the June 2023 fire at Folha 8.

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