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US Lawmakers Urge Angola to Drop Prosecution of Journalist

FILE - Journalist Rafael Marques de Morais is interviewed at his home in Luanda, Angola, May 12, 2015.

Several members of the U.S. Congress are calling on Angola to drop its prosecution of investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, whom Angolan authorities have charged with insulting the state.

Marques was charged with "insult against public authority" and "outrage to a body of sovereignty" last month for publishing a 2016 article detailing an illegal real estate transaction made in 2011 by Angola's attorney general, João Maria Moreira de Sousa.

Another journalist, Mariano Bras Lourenco, is facing the same charges for having republished the article in a weekly newspaper.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, reacted to the charges against Marques and Lourenco on Twitter this week, calling free speech "a basic check on corruption" and urging Angolan authorities to drop the charges against the journalists.

Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, questioned the timing of the prosecution, as charges weren't announced until after Marques had received a prestigious award from the National Endowment for Democracy earlier this month.

Cardin called the charges "nothing more than an intimidation tactic" and called on Angola to "demonstrate that it respects openness."

"For years, the government has attempted to silence this anti-corruption crusader by harassing and even imprisoning him," Cardin said in a statement. "It's time for Angolan leadership to demonstrate that it respects openness, and can tolerate criticism from citizens exercising their constitutional right to free expression."

'Retaliatory measure'

Rights groups including the Human Rights Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists have also condemned the charges against Marques.

Dave Peterson, the National Endowment for Democracy's Africa director, called the charges "a retaliatory measure" after Marques' story about the attorney general drew unwanted attention to corruption in Angola.

"Government doesn´t like the international exposure that Rafael brings to problems that Angola has, and he talked about that when he was in Washington," Peterson told VOA's Portuguese to Africa service.

Marques was indicted June 20 upon his return from Washington, where he and four other anti-corruption activists received awards for their work.

Marques was imprisoned in 1999 for an article he wrote calling Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos a dictator.

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