The website of Correio Angolense, one of Angola’s most respected independent online news sources, has been inaccessible since 25 September, when it was crashed by thousands of simultaneous connection attempts, many more than is normal. Its editor, Graça Campos, told RSF that everything indicates that this was a cyber-attack.
The website had just posted an article about claims that President Joao Lourenço’s chief of staff, Edeltrudes Costa, had embezzled public funds. The claims were first reported by the Portuguese TV channel Televisão Independente (TVI), which alleged that Costa had embezzled millions of dollars, depositing the money in tax havens or using it to buy luxury villas in Portugal, although combatting corruption has been one of Lourenço’s main pledges since his election in 2017.
In the course of its research, RSF learned that the computer of its former Angola correspondent, freelance journalist Siona Casimiro, was also the target of a cyber-attack after he worked on the same story. “There can be no doubt about the desire to silence journalists with regard to the Edeltrudes Costa affair,” Casimiro told RSF.
“We are extremely concerned by these cyber-attacks, which are unprecedented since Joao Lourenço became president,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “If the Angolese authorities are sincere and non-partisan in their desire to combat corruption, they most protect those who, as journalists, help to expose it.” Froger added: “Allowing these attacks to multiply would constitute a grave step backwards for press freedom in Angola. We urge the authorities to conduct an investigation to identify and punish those responsible.”
One of Angola’s best known independent journalists, Campos has often been targeted by the authorities in the past. He has repeatedly been sued by politicians and even spent several weeks in prison after being convicted of criminal defamation in 2007, as RSF reported at the time.
The allegations against the president’s chief of staff are highly sensitive in Angola and some media outlets have deliberately chosen not to mention them. Business reporter Carlos Rosado announced that he has decided to stop working with Zimbo TV after it rejected his offer to do a report about the affair and he was excluded from a Palanca TV debate about the business climate in Angola.
Angola is currently ranked 106th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.