The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is deeply concerned about the case involving three Cape Verdean journalists accused of “qualified disobedience,” in connection with their work and demands the dropping of all charges against them.
In the beginning of 2022, authorities in Cape Verde opened investigations on journalists Hermínio Silves, editor of the news website the Santiago Magazine, reporter Daniel Almeida and chief-editor Alexandre Semedo, both of the newspaper A Nação. The indictment follows articles published by the journalists in which the three media professionals reported on a classified investigation into police killing. They denounced that seven years after opening investigations, the authorities had failed to identify the perpetrators and suspects of the killing and bring them to book. The journalists also alleged in their publications that the killing allegedly involved Paulo Rocha, the current minister of Internal Administration who was, at that time, deputy director of the judicial police.
On January 26, 2022, the authorities officially declared editor of the private news website, the Santiago Magazine, Hermínio Silves a suspect in that criminal investigation in connection with the critical publication. The indictment follows the publishing of an article by the journalist on December 28, 2021.
On February 4, 2022, in connection with the same case, reporter Daniel Almeida and Alexandre Semedo who are both from the private newspaper A Nação, were formally declared as suspects by Officers from office of the Attorney General in Praia. Almeida and Semedo are accused of breaching legal confidentiality by disclosing confidential judicial information about police abuse in news reports.
According to the Portuguese legal systems, the three journalists are found “arguidos”, that is, they have become formal suspects in the commission of the crime. Besides, they could be arrested or charged at any point in time. They are also prohibited to report on the classified investigation or risk a charge of contempt.
The authorities of Cape Verde initially investigated the journalists for alleged violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Procedural Code, but it was changed as the article does not apply to journalists. According to article 112 of the Cape Verdean Criminal Procedural Code, journalists are not bound by the judicial secrecy. However, article 113 states that anyone can be charged with “qualified disobedience,” including journalists if they disclose judicial secrets or breach legal confidentiality.
The Cape Verde legal community is divided over whether Article 113 should apply to journalists.
According to Article 356 of the penal code of Cape Verde, the journalists could face six months to four years’ imprisonment or a fine to be decided by a judge.
“Whoever, in a manner not permitted by law, discloses the contents of a procedural act covered by legal confidentiality or in which it has been decided to exclude publicity, shall be punished by a prison sentence of between six months and four years, in the case of criminal proceedings, or by a prison sentence of up to six months or a fine…”.
The incident has mobilised media, civil society and political discourse in Cape Verde in support of the journalists. A petition has been submitted to Parliament to amend article 113 of the Criminal Procedural Code as well as any setback to media freedom in the country.
The MFWA joins all freedom of expression activists and organisations in Cape Verde to express its unwavering support to the three journalists. We strongly condemn the action of the authorities as an attempt to censor the journalists and the media in general regarding the police killing.
We further call on the Cape Verdean authorities to uphold press freedom and access to information in the country as they conduct transparent investigations into the case.