Angolan investigative journalist and Index on Censorship award-winner Rafael Marques de Morais was handed down a six-month suspended sentence in Luanda on Thursday 28 May 2015, less than a week after celebrating an apparent dismissal of all charges.
Last Thursday, it had been widely understood that the case against him – in which he was accused of defaming several generals in a 2011 book about human-rights violations in the diamond industry – had been dropped. All parties appeared to have reached an agreement, whereby Marques would not republish his book but could continue his work.
However, the public prosecutor said on Monday 25 May 2015 that Marques’ statement was an admission of guilt and called for him to receive a suspended sentence.
Speaking to Index ahead of the sentencing, Marques said: “The public prosecutor put words in my mouth. He said that I had apologised, and had admitted to have written falsehoods.”
Marques’ witnesses, including a mother of a victim who was hacked to death in the Lundas mining region, were never given the chance to speak in court, after the case was “dismissed” in a move that Marques now believes was “a trick”.
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Marques has been convicted for malicious prosecution, not defamation. The malicious prosecution charges (saying that he intentionally submitted false evidence) were added – in another unexpected move – on his first day in court in March.
The six-month suspended sentence has a term of two years, during which if he engages in any behaviour the state deems as criminal, the sentence will be implemented. Marques will be launching an appeal.
Over 50 signatories – including Index on Censorship, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs – have written a letter to Angolan President José Eduardo Dos Santos, demanding urgent action on Marques’ case and calling for Angola’s criminal defamation laws to be abolished.
In March, just days before the trial started, Marques attended Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards in London, where he received the journalism award for his courageous and vital investigations. In a speech, he said: “I am proud and honoured 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.”
Index on Censorship’s CEO Jodie Ginsberg said: “We are appalled to hear that Rafael has been sentenced after an absurd process. This is a clear violation of rights to free expression, to a free press and to a fair trial. We are extremely concerned not only about Rafael, whose work is so incredibly important, but also that cases like this are being used to deter others from speaking out. We feel a suspended sentence over two years will curb his ongoing work, which has recently included highlighting Angola’s press restrictions and reporting on a massacre of members of a sect by police forces.”