March 11, 2011

Dr. João Maria Moreira de Sousa
Procurator General of the Republic
Procurador Geral da República
Procuradoria Geral da República
Rua 17 Setembro Luanda
República de Angola
Fax: + 244 222 333 170 / + 244 222 333 172

Guilhermina Contreiras da Costa Prata
Ministro da Justiça
Ministério da Justiça
Rua 17 Setembro, Luanda
República de Angola
Fax: +244 222 330 327 / +244 222 338 175

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the sentence and fine imposed on journalist Armando José Chicoca.

According to our information, on March 3, 2011, Chicoca, a reporter for various private Angolan newspapers including Folha 8, Agora, and O Apostolado, as well as for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America (VOA), was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of US$2,100 by a court in the southwestern province of Namibe on defamation charges. The charges stem from his reporting on sexual harassment allegations against the presiding judge of the Provincial Court of Namibe. The lawsuit was filed by the judge in question. Chicoca’s defense lawyer was not present during his trial and it is not clear whether he was barred from attending. Chicoca was transferred to Comarca Prison in Namibe following sentencing. According to his lawyer, he intended to appeal the ruling.

This is not the first time that Chicoca has faced judicial harassment in connection with his writing. In 2007 he spent 33 days in prison after police arrested him while he was reporting on protests against the demolition of a street market.

PEN American Center believes that Armando José Chicoca has been fined and sentenced solely for exercising his legitimate right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Angola is a state party. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release, the rescinding of the fine imposed against him, and assurances that he will have full access to his lawyers and family while in detention. We also urge you to decriminalize all press offenses in Angola, including defamation, in order to avoid similar cases in the future.

Thank you for your considertation of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                  
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee  

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Josefina Pitra Diakité
Ambassador of the Republic of Angola to the U.S.
Embassy of Angola in the U.S.
2100-2108 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 822-9049

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