September 26, 2018 Articles

Angola: Rafael Marques de Morais to stand trial

Angolan journalist and human rights activist, Rafael Marques de Morais has been ordered to appear in court on March 5, 2018.

Angolan journalist and human rights activist, Rafael Marques de Morais has been served with a notice to appear before the Provincial Tribunal in Luanda Angola on March 5, 2018.  Rafael was initially indicted in May 2017 and charged with “outrage to a sovereign body,” considered a crime against state security, and “insult against a public authority.”  These charges reportedly carry maximum prison sentences of three years and one year, respectively. The charges relate to concerns Rafael raised in a 2016 article he wrote that was published in Maka Angola, regarding a 2011 real estate transaction involving the former Attorney General of Angola, Joao Maria Moreira de Sousa. The article questioned how the Attorney General had acquired certain property for purposes of “urban development” yet the property had been designated as “rural land.” Rafael also noted that because of its rural designation, the land which is located in a prime position, had been sold for a paltry sum.

The continuation of the case against Rafael comes as a disappointment. When President, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço was inaugurated in September last year, he pledged amongst other things, to fight corruption, ensure equal application of the law and bring reforms to freedom of the press in Angola. President Lourenço’s words brought hope that these types of proceedings against human rights activists which were common during the reign of president José Eduardo dos Santos, would be discontinued and the charges against Rafael dropped. The presidency of, Dos Santos, which lasted 38 years, was characterized by repressive laws and the misuse of the criminal justice system to silence dissent.

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.