Joint Letter: Prosecution of Rafael Marques de Morais
We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, are writing to you to express our strong concerns about the prosecution on criminal defamation charges of journalist Rafael Marques de Morais.
27 May 15

His Excellency José Eduardo dos Santos

President of the Republic of Angola

Re: Prosecution of Rafael Marques de Morais

Dear President dos Santos,

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, are writing to you to express our strong concerns about the prosecution on criminal defamation charges of journalist Rafael Marques de Morais. Despite what was understood to have been a negotiated agreement between Mr. Marques de Morais and government authorities late last week, we are deeply concerned that that agreement is now being reversed. Instead, it appears that the court will issue a verdict in the case later this week; a conviction could result in a prison sentence and the indefinite revocation of his passport.

This case reflects a broader deterioration in the environment for freedom of expression in Angola, including the increasing use of criminal defamation lawsuits against journalists and routine police abuse of, and interference with, journalists, activists, and protesters peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. We urge you to take immediate steps to reverse these worrying trends.

Mr. Marques de Morais has been regularly and repeatedly harassed by state authorities because of his work. The 24 criminal defamation charges lodged against Marques, for example, are only the latest attempt by Angolan officials to silence his reporting. Marques has alleged 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.[1] We are unaware of any serious effort by the Angolan attorney-general’s office to impartially and credibly investigate the allegations of the crimes for which he has been charged.

Your government appears to be using Angola’s criminal defamation laws to deter Mr. Marques de Morais from his human rights reporting. By doing so, the government is violating his right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Preventing him from reporting on human rights violations is contrary to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The prosecution of Mr. Marques de Morais also stands in opposition to the December 2014 judgment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which ruled in the case of Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso that except in very serious and exceptional circumstances, “violations of laws on freedom speech and the press cannot be sanctioned by custodial sentences.”[2] Laws criminalizing defamation, whether of public or private individuals, should never be applied, including in these circumstances given that Marques was raising concerns about human rights abuses in the country’s diamond mines. Criminal defamation laws are open to easy abuse, as the case against Marques demonstrates, resulting in disproportionately harsh consequences. As repeal of criminal defamation laws in an increasing number of countries shows, such laws are not necessary for protecting reputations.

We strongly urge you to take immediate steps to make clear that the government of Angola respects the right of journalists, activists, and others to enjoy their right to freedom of expression. Furthermore we encourage you to immediately pursue efforts to abolish Angola’s criminal defamation laws.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely yours,

Sarah Margon, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch
Steven Hawkins, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
Teresa Pina, Executive Director, Amnesty International Portugal
A. Lemon, Emeritus Fellow, Mansfield College, University of Oxford
Aline Mashiach, Head Commercial and Marketing Manager, Royalife LTD
Andreas Missbach, Joint-managing director, Berne Declaration, Switzerland
Art Kaufman, Senior Director, World Movement for Democracy
Beata Styś-Pałasz, P.E. Senior Project Manager, State of Florida Department of Transportation
Ben Knighton, Co-ordinator of the African Studies Research Group, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS)
Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy
Cécile Bushidi, PhD student, SOAS, University of London
Cléa Kahn-Sriber, Head of Africa Desk, Reporters Without Borders
Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director, Transparency International
Daniel Calingaert, Executive Vice President, Freedom House
Deborah Posel, Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA), University of Cape Town
Diana Jeater, Editor, Journal of Southern African Studies, Lecturer in African History, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dorothee Boulanger, Doctoral candidate, King’s College London
Dylan Tromp, Director, Integrate: Business & Human Rights
E.A. Brett, Professor of International Development, London School of Economics
Ery Shin, Doctoral candidate in English literature, University of Oxford
Fiona Armitage
Garth Meintjes, Executive Director, International Senior Lawyers Project
Henning Melber, Senior Advisor/Director emeritus, The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
Hilary Owen, Professor of Portuguese and Luso-African Studies, University of Manchester
Jaqueline Mitchell, Commissioning Editor, James Currey
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship
Kathryn Brooks, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford
Kenneth Hughes, University of Cape Town
Lara Pawson, freelance writer, Author of In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre
Lotte Hughes, Senior Research Fellow, History Department, and The Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies Faculty of Arts, The Open University
Margot Leger, MSc Student, African Studies
Mary Lawlor, Founder and Executive Director, Front Line Defenders
Matthew de la Hey, MBA Candidate, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
Merle Lipton, Research Fellow, King’s College London
Michael Ineichen, Program Manager & Human Rights Council Advocacy Director, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Michael Lipton, Research Professor of Economics, Sussex University
Michael Savage, Cape Town, South Africa
Michelle Kelly, Faculty of English, University of Oxford
Nic Cheeseman, Associate Professor in African Politics, Department of Politics and IR and the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford
Patrycja Stys, Co-Convenor, Oxford Central Africa Forum (OCAF), University of Oxford
Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Phillip Rothwell, King John II Professor of Portuguese, University of Oxford
Raymond Baker, President, Global Financial Integrity
Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand
Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Partners for Human Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Simon Taylor, Director, Global Witness
Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director, PEN American Center
William Beinart, Director, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford


Adão Adriano António, Attorney General of the Republic and supervisor of the central Huambo province

Lucas Miguel Janota, Magistrate of the Public Ministry