On May 28 Rafael Marques de Morais, a courageous investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist from Angola, was convicted and given a six-month suspended jail sentence following a trial for criminal defamation.
The conviction is a huge blow to freedom of expression and the fight against graft in Angola.
Marques’ crime: He exposed corruption and human rights abuses in his country. His book, “Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola,” describes how Angolan military officials and private security companies committed human rights abuses against Angolan villagers in the course of diamond mining operations. The book can be read online for free here.
In 2013 Transparency International awarded Marques its Integrity Award for his continued efforts to expose the corrupt practices of those in power.
Transparency International along with more than 70 individuals and organisations has signed an open letter calling for the conviction to be overturned.
We, the undersigned, call on Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos to drop the prosecution of journalist Rafael Marques de Morais.
Marques’ vital investigations into human rights abuses should not be impeded by the threat of jail, which is set to loom over him for two years under the court’s terms.
His conviction and six-month suspended sentence are a clear violation of the rights to free expression, to a free press and to a fair trial.
Marques’ reporting is fundamental not only to Angola, but to the world at large.
We call on you to ensure standards of international law are applied during the appeal process.
The conviction and sentencing came a week after an apparent dismissal of all the charges against Marques following an agreement with the generals who had accused him of defamation. Marques has since described this agreement as “a trick.” It meant that his witnesses, including a mother who says that her two sons were killed by Angolan security forces, did not get a chance to testify.
Corruption can only be fought successfully in countries where the media is free to report on it without fear of retaliation. Transparency International is concerned Angola is making an example of Marques in order to deter others from undertaking investigations into corruption and rights violations.
Angola scored just 19 out of 100 in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, a fall of four points from its 2013 score of 23. Out of 175 countries, only one fell by more.
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