The American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights (Center) strongly calls upon Angola and President João Lourenço to drop the pending criminal charges against Rafael Marques de Morais and fellow journalists in Angola. In a recent report titled New Regime, Old Habits: An Analysis of the Legal Proceedings against Anti-Corruption Journalists in Angola, the Center also urges President Lourenço to honour his pledge to build Angola’s democracy by repealing Angola’s laws that unduly restrict freedom of expression and ensure that public officials are indeed open to greater public scrutiny.
The report examines the case against Rafael Marques de Morais and Mariano Bras Lourenço, whose trial began on March 19, 2018 before the Provincial Tribunal of Angola. Marques de Morais and Bras Lourenco are charged with “outrage to a sovereign body,” considered a crime against state security, and “insult against a public authority.” In addition, Marques de Morais is facing a separate civil defamation suit for 2 million Kwanzas (roughly USD $9340). The charges relate to a 2016 article by Marques de Morais published in Maka Angola, in which he questioned a real estate transaction involving the former Attorney General of Angola. Bras Lourenco re published the article in the weekly newspaper O Crime.
Although international law recognizes the need to protect national security interests and the rights and reputations of others as legitimate aims for restricting speech, international human rights bodies have consistently held that criticism of public officials and statements on matters of public interest should be afforded the highest level of protection. State security laws, such as “outrage to a body sovereign,” are overly broad and subject to abuse. In addition, laws that impose criminal penalties for restricting speech including insult laws and criminal defamation, are a disproportionate sanction to the aim of protecting the reputation of others. In particular, laws that specifically give greater protection to public officials, who, by nature of their positions must be open to greater criticism, are in obvious contradiction with the democratic pillars of public scrutiny and accountability. Such laws have an impermissible chilling effect on public discourse regarding governance and matters of public interest and are a violation of freedom of expression.
The report thus concludes that the current criminal and civil actions taken against the two journalists are incompatible with Angola’s regional and international human rights standards. If President Lourenco is genuinely committed to fighting corruption, then Angola must recognize the important role the media plays in promoting good governance and curbing corruption and should desist from past practice of arresting and prosecuting anti-corruption journalists. The ABA Center for human rights will be closely monitoring the trial to ensure respect for fair trial rights.
This is not the first case that Rafael Marques de Morais is facing in retaliation for his investigative journalism. In 2015, he was charged with defamation for publishing his book “Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola”, which purports to document human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond mining region. He was eventually convicted of slanderous denunciation and given a six months suspended sentence for asking Angolan authorities to investigate extrajudicial killings and torture committed by private security forces allegedly operating under the control of Angolan generals in the country’s diamond mines. His trial in 2015, was marred by serious fair trial irregularities which the ABA Center for Human Rights documented in a public report.