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Angolan Journalist Convicted of Libel

  • James Butty

Rafael Marques de Morais.

Rafael Marques de Morais.

Angolan journalist and anti-corruption activist Rafael Marques de Morais was found guilty Thursday of criminal libel and given a six-month suspended sentence for two years.

He said he will stay in the country to help bring about change, and that if anyone is to be forced to leave the country it should be what he called the corrupt and totalitarian individuals who are destroying the country.

“Of course I intend to stay. These individuals are wrecking this country. The bad ones are the ones who must leave, not me. Why do people with integrity are always asked to leave. So, the devilish ones, the corrupt, the athoritarian, the incompetent corrupt... stay in power and do whatever they want,” he said.

De Morais exposed human rights abuses in the diamond-producing northeast province of the country.

The case was brought by seven generals and the minister of state and head of presidential security.

De Morais said the judge cited the fact that he published a book in Portugal and lodged a criminal complaint in Luanda, based on his book, for the Angolan authorities to investigate the atrocities he reported.

“The judge, based on two facts, convicted me to six months imprisonment and suspended the sentence for two years. So basically putting me on a two-year probation. If I don’t behave well, then I go to jail,” said de Morais.

He described the conditions for his suspended sentence as preposterous.

“Now the judge said that I have an agreement with the general. Where is that agreement? The book was published in Portugal. What jurisdiction does the general have over Portugal”? asked de Morais.

De Morais said there was no discussion in court of the facts he presented in his book.

He told VOA this week that when the trial opened in March this year, he was asked to make a “patriotic statement” and, if he did, the case would go away.

But he said after making the so-called “patriotic statement,” he was double-crossed by the general and the public prosecutor.

“I explained in court that I submitted my questions to the general’s company on the human rights abuses, but I learned in court that these questions were not forwarded to the general himself,” he said.

De Morais defended his decision to make the so-called “patriotic” statement.

“I don’t blame myself because this is a process in which I demonstrated a sense of honesty and integrity. And also because what I said in court is true that I presented my diligence to the managers of the company owned by the general and not directly to the general,” De Morais said.

About 50 individuals and organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, sent a letter to President José Eduardo dos Santos saying the case against De Morais “reflects a broader deterioration in the environment for freedom of expression in Angola, including the use of criminal defamation lawsuits against journalists.

“By doing so, the government is violating his right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, the letter said.

The group urged dos Santos to “immediately pursue efforts to abolish Angola’s criminal defamation laws.”