Index is appalled to learn that a decision to pursue a conviction of Index award winning investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais is moving forward despite apparent agreement between the parties.
Last week, a court in Angola indicated that libel charges against the anti-corruption campaigner would be dropped, but on Monday 25 May 2015 the public prosecutor said he would proceed with a conviction.
“This backtracking by Angola in the case of Rafael Marques de Morais is outrageous,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “Rafael’s investigations into human rights abuses in Angola are crucial and should not be impeded.”
On Monday 25 May, Marques said he felt “tricked” in the wake of last week’s deal he had secured with the generals, according to AFP.
“After all this, the state asks that I be sentenced, saying that I had failed to give evidence,” Marques was quoted as saying as he left the courtroom.
David Mendes, Marques de Morais’ lawyer, told AFP that the prosecution is seeking a one-month suspended sentence despite the agreement between the parties. The verdict in the case is expected 28 May.
The new developments are the latest twist in the case against Marques de Morais, who was being sued for libel by a group of generals in connection to his work exposing corruption and serious human rights violations connected to the diamond trade in his native Angola.
The case was directly linked to Marques de Morais’ 2011 book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola. In it, he recounted 500 cases of torture and 100 murders of villagers living near diamond mines, carried out by private security companies and military officials. He filed charges of crimes against humanity against seven generals, holding them morally responsible for atrocities committed. After his case was dropped by the prosecution, the generals retaliated with a series of libel lawsuits in Angola and Portugal.
Marques de Morais originally faced nine charges of defamation, but on his first court appearance on 23 March was handed down an additional 15 charges. The proceedings were marked by heavy police presence, and five people were arrested. The trial opened just days after he was named joint winner of the 2015 Index Award for journalism.
The parties had been negotiating to try and find some “common ground”, Marques de Morais told Index in late April, but the talks broke down. His case was postponed to 14 May while the talks were ongoing.
The resumption of the trial came amid allegations of a massacre of members of a religious sect that Marques de Morais reported on for The Guardian. MakaAngola, Marques de Morais’ investigative journalism site, was knocked offline for a short period after The Guardian article.