Rafael, who runs Maka Angola, an anti-corruption and pro-democracy website, has over the years faced numerous criminal and civil proceedings in response to his investigative journalism. In July 1999, Rafael was arrested for writing an article titled “The Lipstick of Dictatorship,” which criticized then Angolan president, Dos Santos and referred to him as a “dictator”. He was tried and found guilty of defaming and injuring the president under the Penal Code, as well as guilty of abuse of press under the Media Law. Rafael was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay damages equivalent to USD 60,000.00. In October 2000, the Angolan Supreme Court quashed the defamation conviction and reduced the final penalty to approximately USD 17,000.00. In May 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.
Criminal sanctions, particularly those that impose prison sentences, and civil defamation suits that claim large amounts in damages are gravely concerning in a democratic society. These have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression and access to information. The protection of these fundamental freedoms is essential to safeguarding democratic governance and the public’s right to know the truth, particularly as it relates to public officials who, by the nature of their official position, are supposed to be more open to scrutiny and tolerant of public criticism. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has thus stated in its 2002 Resolution on the Adoption of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002) that “no one shall be found liable for true statements, opinions or statements regarding public figures which it was reasonable to make in the circumstances.”
As a journalist and human rights activist covering Angola, Rafael has had to repeatedly defend himself against criminal and civil actions. He has incurred heavy legal costs, suffered the emotional toll brought about by lengthy proceedings and in some instances, been deprived of his liberty. Despite such adversity, which would deter others, Rafael has continued documenting human rights violations in Angola and advocating for transparency and accountability by the Angolan government. Rafael recently released a report titled “Angola’s Killing Fields, A report on Extra Judicial Executions in Luanda, 2016-2017”. The report documents cases of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals by Angola’s security forces with little or no investigation and ultimately no due process.
The ABA Center for Human Rights through its Justice Defenders Program will be closely monitoring the proceedings against Rafael to ensure he receives a fair trial. The Program is committed to supporting human rights defenders across the world who face retaliation for carrying out their legitimate human rights work. Since its inception in 2011, the Justice Defenders Program has provided pro bono legal assistance, observed trials and disciplinary proceedings, and engaged in both private and public advocacy on behalf of human rights defenders in every region of the world.