Both as a journalist and human rights activist, Rafael Marques de Morais has exposed government and industry corruption in Angola – speaking out for those whose human rights have been violated in his country. Despite repeated arrests and threats, including a 40-day detention without charge during which he was denied food and water for days, Marques de Morais has continued his investigations, most recently detailing human rights abuses within Angola’s diamond companies – including 500 cases of torture and 100 murders of villagers living in the vicinity. After filing charges of crimes against humanity against seven Angolan generals, Marques do Morais is now being counter-sued for $1.6 (£1.09) million. Undeterred, he continues to write on corruption in Angola. He is the joint recipient of the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Journalism.
With an award comes a greater responsibility. It is therefore my privilege to accept this journalism award, and dedicate it to my fellow Ethiopian colleagues Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemo, and the Zone 9 bloggers. They are in jail, currently serving some of the harshest sentences in Africa, for the crime of exercising their right to freedom of expression. For over a year, the Ethiopian government has denied adequate health care to Reeyot Alemu, who is in desperate need.
Ethiopia is the seat of the African Union, and its regime is one of the worst offenders for upholding the freedoms of the press and of expression. When a regime in Africa succeeds in trampling their citizens’ rights with impunity, and enjoys such good international standing and legitimacy as Ethiopia, it becomes a textbook case for other authoritarian regimes.
I believe in the power of solidarity. I have experienced troubles of my own. It has been the solidarity of others that has helped to strengthen my courage and resolve to continue my journey.
Back in 1996, being in London and aghast at press censorship in Angola, I decided to bring it to international attention. Because I could not speak English, I fumbled through an organization’s directory, and found Index on Censorship. I could understand the word Censorship. I called them and attended a meeting on Africa. My remarks were most convincing and incredibly short! “Censorship in Angola bad. Dos Santos [the president] bad. Very bad!” Then, a few months later I had an article translated and published in Index’s magazine. It was disseminated through other publications in a number of countries.
On my return to Angola from this trip, I will be sitting in court, on 24 March, as the defendant on 11 separate charges of defamation brought against me by seven powerful generals and four of their business associates. I wrote a book that exposed human rights abuses in the diamond industry, in which the plaintiffs are major shareholders and whose private security company has executed many of the violations.
I am proud and honored to stand up against such a mighty power to enable many of the victims to speak out through my reports, which I have been producing for the past 10 years. I will come out of this trial stronger and empowered by the experience.
Thank you very much for this wonderful occasion.
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