NEW YORK—The prosecution of journalist Rafael Marques de Morais on charges of “outrage against a sovereign body” and “insult against a public office holder” represents a renewed effort by the Angolan government to stifle freedom of expression and critical reporting, PEN America said today.

Marques faces a maximum sentence of 4 years for each count, which stem from a 2016 article published on his anti-corruption blog Maka Angola detailing a 2011 real estate transaction involving former Attorney General Joao Maria Moreira de Sousa. Marques was initially indicted in May 2017, with the trial date postponed without a set resumption date at the request of the government. The trial began on March 5, 2018 after further efforts to delay proceedings were rejected by the court.

“Rafael Marques has for years bravely documented government malfeasance and human rights abuses in Angola at a great cost to his own personal safety and well-being,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “It is essential that he be allowed to continue his work unimpeded and without fear of reprisal, particularly given the supposed support for press reform and equal protection by new president João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. PEN America therefore calls for all charges to be dropped, and for Marques to be released immediately.”

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 minds, 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. Most recently, he has advocated on behalf of two missionaries wrongly imprisoned in Angola, the Zambian national Passmore Hachalinga and Burns Sibanda of Zimbabwe.

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.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected]