Acquittal of Award-Winning Journalist in Angola is a Victory for Press Freedom
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—The acquittal of journalist Rafael Marques de Morais and fellow journalist Mariano Bras on charges of “outrage against a sovereign body” and “insult against a public office holder” represents a victory for freedom of the press and expression in Angola, PEN America said in a statement today.
Judge Josina Ferreira Falcão cleared the pair on July 6, on charges that stemmed from a 2016 article published on the anti-corruption blog Maka Angola detailing a 2011 real estate transaction involving former Attorney General Joao Maria Moreira de Sousa. In her opinion on the case, the judge wrote, “This court believes that we would be doing very bad as a society that wants progress, if we punish the messengers of bad news.”
“This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression, as well as a vindication of Rafael Marques’ work,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “While it is regrettable that the case had to come to trial, it is very good news that in this instance the court recognized and respected the importance of a free press.”
Marques has long faced repercussions for his dogged chronicling of corruption in Angola. In July 1999, he was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined the equivalent of $60,000 USD for referring to then-president José Eduardo dos Santos a “dictator” in an article titled “The Lipstick of Dictatorship.” His book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, which details human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond mines, led to a 2015 conviction for “slanderous denunciation.” Marques has been recognized internationally for his work, and has received among other prizes the 2014 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award and the 2015 Allard Prize for International Integrity.
Restrictions on free expression in Angola include laws against criminal defamation, used liberally to silence government critics. In addition to the repeated prosecutions of Marques, Angola has persecuted other journalists and activists over the years, including Domingos da Cruz, who in 2013 was tried for inciting civil disobedience because of a text he published that was critical of dos Santos, and Manuel Nito Alves, who was jailed for two months that same year for printing t-shirts calling dos Santos a “disgusting dictator.”
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org
Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]