Angola’s attorney-general should drop all criminal defamation charges against an investigative journalist, Rafael Marques de Morais, because they undermine free expression rights, says a leading human rights group.
The government should also repeal the country’s criminal defamation laws – the basis for the charges, says Human Rights Watch:
The 11 lawsuits brought against Marques – Angola’s most prominent investigative journalist, human rights defender, and anti-corruption campaigner – are the latest attempt by Angolan officials to silence his reporting. Marques has exposed a range of high-level corruption cases and human rights violations in his blog, and pursued sensitive investigations into human rights violations in Angola’s diamond areas…. On July 31, 2013, Marques attended a hearing at the National Directorate on Criminal Investigation and Action in Luanda, Angola’s capital, regarding ten new lawsuits and one pre-existing criminal defamation case brought against him. Neither Marques nor his lawyer have been allowed to review the full indictments and files or evidence related to any of those lawsuits.
“Angola has found its criminal defamation laws very useful to try to squelch reports about corruption and human rights violations,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Angola should be investigating these reports of serious human rights violations instead of trying to silence the bearers of bad news.”
The attorney-general should drop these cases immediately, he said, and abolish the laws that permit these disproportionate charges.
A host of democracy, human rights, and civil society groups petitioned Attorney General João Maria de Sousa to drop the criminal proceedings against investigative journalist Marques. The charges arise from his book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, that documents allegations of murder, torture, forced displacement of civilian settlements, and widespread violence in the diamond-mining areas of the country’s Lundas region.
An activist with the Maka Angola civil society group, Marques is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, specializing in political economy, the diamond industry, and government corruption. A former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, his writings have helped set the agenda for political debate in Angola by exposing abuses of power and endemic corruption. See more at:
Marques was first arrested and charged with defamation in 1999 after he wrote an article titled “The Lipstick of Dictatorship,” in which he called Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos a dictator. After a trial presided over by a former member of Angola’s secret police with no legal training, Marques was sentenced to six months imprisonment, but the Supreme Court suspended the sentence on condition that he abstain from publishing anything deemed “defamatory” by the Angolan government for five years.
Marques has routinely experienced harassment, surveillance, and violations of his right to privacy, HRW adds:
In 2011 his blog suffered several apparently targeted “denial of service” hacker attacks. When he flew from Luanda to Lisbon in March 2011, 70 paper files of victim testimony were stolen from his checked baggage, which had been opened by force. In early 2013 his personal computer was targeted for multiple attacks with customized malware, compromising his communications with lawyers, international organizations, and others regarding his defense against the lawsuits.
Angolan authorities have failed to conduct a credible investigation into the allegations of serious human rights abuses in diamond-rich Lunda Norte exposed in Marques’s 2011 book. In January 2013 a delegation of traditional authorities from Lunda Norte formally requested the re-opening of the proceedings, with a petition signed by over 100 traditional authorities, but there has been no response from the Attorney-General’s Office.
“The cases against Marques show exactly why criminal defamation laws are a problem: they can too easily be abused and used for politically motivated purposes,” Lefkow said. “Angola’s government doesn’t seem to have learned much from its previous misguided efforts to silence Marques.”
“Angola has an obligation to investigate credible allegations of serious human rights violations and should focus on addressing these abuses, instead of accusing investigative journalists who are the messengers of bad news.”