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Angola reporter convicted for questioning screams at police station

LISBON (Reuters) - An Angolan radio journalist has been convicted for defamation after allegedly inquiring about screams coming from prisoners inside a police station, his lawyer said on Friday.

The Angolan court handed Queiros Chiluvia a six-month suspended sentence, the lawyer told Reuters by telephone from Luanda, in a case that drew criticism from a media rights group.

Chiluvia, a deputy editor at Radio Despertar, a station backed by Angola's main opposition party UNITA, was arrested on Sunday after entering the Cacuaco police station on the edge of Luanda to seek comment about the prisoners' screams.

"The journalist was sentenced to 180 days in prison and the sentence was suspended," said defense lawyer Pedro Cangombe. "We are glad he has been freed, but are not happy with the verdict and will file an appeal."

He said the accusation that Chiluvia had defamed the police was unfounded, given that the report he filed just before his arrest did not accuse police of any wrongdoing and only reported the screams from inside the station.

An Angolan police spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

UNITA lost a 27-year civil war against President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' MPLA party in 2002 and has since suffered heavy defeats in two elections.

Opposition parties and international rights groups have long accused Dos Santos, who has been in power in Africa's No. 2 oil producer for 34 years, of suppressing freedoms, including those of the press.

"The conviction... for merely seeking comment from the police is an outrageous travesty of justice," said Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator for New York-based media rights group Committee to Protect Journalists.

"It criminalizes a basic act of journalism and tramples on the right to access information on a topic of public interest such as the conditions of prisoners inside a police station."

(Reporting by Shrikesh Laxmidas; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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