When you go up against the big guns of any state, you know they will throw everything at you. Even when they tell you that you have won, you shouldn’t believe a word they say.
Investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais has learned this hard lesson in the last few days.
For months the journalist, who reported on killings and torture related to Angola’s diamond industry, has been awaiting a court appearance on criminal defamation charges that could have resulted in a nine-year prison sentence and a fine of up to £800,000.
As those months went by, additional charges were added, and the pressure on the journalist and his family ramped up and up. Then at the end of last week, an Angolan court announced it was going to drop all the criminal defamation charges against him.
Marques celebrated the “good news” with his supporters. But days later the Angola court system did a complete swivel and decided that instead it was planning to find him guilty and punish him with a prison sentence.
The tension-filled story has enough twists and turns to make it into a Hollywood thriller one day, but this is real and for now Marques has to live through the incredible pressure it puts on him and his family.
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Marques said today: “I am in disbelief for what I heard in court. The public prosecutor put words into my mouth. He said that I had apologised, and had admitted to have written falsehoods.”
He added: “My witnesses were scheduled to be heard on May 22, and I had brought eight victims from the Lundas. The generals were supposed to be heard on May 21, and never showed up. What I stated in court, on May 21, is on the record and of public knowledge. I was asked to make a short statement to enable to generals and their companies, as well as the state to drop the charges against me.”
Marques, an internationally recognised journalist, added: ” All parties agreed that there was no further need for witnesses to be heard or evidence to be entered. By Angolan law, in a case of defamation, slander or criminal libel, once explanations are offered in court, and found to be satisfactory for all the parties, the grounds for accusation cease to exist.”
Without his bravery in exposing uncomfortable truths in his book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, many people would not know of the terrifying practises in the diamond mines of Angola, an industry in which many of the most powerful generals of the country own shares. Those generals have been pursuing libel claims against Marques for the stories in his book.
Angola’s unregulated diamond industry and its connections to the nation’s 27-year-long civil war which followed independence have drawn international concern.
Marques is just one man standing alone, who has taken incredible risks to report on the tragedy of 500 cases of torture and 100 murders related to the gem industry and to get the news out to the rest of the world. When you meet Marques, as I did this year when he received an Index on Censorship award, you realise he is driven by an incredible sense of hope. He believes incredibly strongly that his reporting can help go some way to changing the conditions that the people of Lundas are suffering.
When you meet someone who is that brave and committed, then you realise that most of us never take a decision as difficult and filled with personal consequences as Marques has.
But as this very brave man said in March when he was describing his work; “They can lock me up, but they don’t get to silence me.” Let’s hope that they don’t do either.