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Angolan Journalist to Hear Criminal Libel Verdict

  • James Butty

Rafael Marques de Morais.

Rafael Marques de Morais.

A court in Angola is expected to render a verdict Thursday in the case against journalist and anti-corruption activist Rafael Marques de Morais.

He is charged with criminal libel for having exposed human rights abuses in the diamond-producing northeast province of Lunda Norte.

The case was brought by seven generals and the Minister of State and head of presidential security. De Morais said the charges stemmed from his book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola, in which he recounts hundreds of cases of torture and killing allegedly carried out in two diamond-producing districts.

Angolan authorities were not immediately available for comment.

De Morais said when the trial opened in March he was asked to make a patriotic statement and, if he did, the case would go away. Now, he said he feels double-crossed because, after making the statement, his accusers said he should face a one-month suspended prison sentence.

“I was asked on the 21st of May, before the hearing started, to basically make a statement to enable the generals and the prosecution to drop the charges. Basically, 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 said that as a sign of good faith and since there was a willingness on the part of the generals to drop the case, he reaffirmed his commitment not to reprint the book. But, he said, the prosecution misrepresented what he had said in court.

“To my surprise, when I got to the courtroom, the public prosecutor did nothing but lie in front of the international observers, who were in the courtroom, twisted what I had said on record and basically said that I had apologized and I acknowledged that I had written falsehoods when I never said any of that,” De Morais said.

De Morais said the prosecutor told him that, because he did not present witnesses in court, he would be sentenced to a month in prison and, if the judge wanted, he could suspend that sentence. He said the army appealed to him to take a patriotic stance because his case was having a damaging effect.

De Morais said his expectations about Thursday’s verdict are low because the judge will do whatever the generals tell him.

“The judge will do what he’s told and, if the general or whoever is calling the shots changes his mind and says acquit Rafael, I will be acquitted. If he says increase the sentence, he’ll increase the sentence. He’s only pond; he’s not a judge,” he 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.”