Angolan court urged to drop defamation case against two journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the dismissal of all charges against Angolan journalists Rafael Marques and Mariano Bras, who are facing the possibility of three-year jail terms for accusing a former attorney-general of corruption. A court in Luanda is due to issue its verdict tomorrow.

This will be the fourth time in the past 18 months that Marques appears in court on charges of “insulting the public authority” and “offending a sovereign institution” in connection with his October 2016 article on the news website Maka Angola accusing then attorney general João Maria de Sousa of purchasing land illegally. Maka Angola’s founder and editor, Marques is one of Angola’s best known investigative journalists and has repeatedly been arrested and prosecuted as a result of his reporting on corruption. Bras is being tried with him in this case because he reprinted the story in his independent weekly O Crime.

The prosecution requested the maximum possible sentence, three years in prison, for Marques and Bras on 15 June. Marques’ lawyer told RSF that he was optimistic because the charges were “baseless.”

“Angola has had a change of regime and must now change its behaviour towards journalists,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The promises made by the new president, João Lourenço, to break with his predecessor’s policies and promote press freedom must be translated into action. The justice system must also send a clear signal by dropping all the charges against Rafael Marques et Mariano Bras.”

Marques spent six weeks in prison and was tortured in 1999 for describing then President José Eduardo dos Santos as a “corrupt dictator” in an article. He received a six-month suspended prison sentence on a criminal defamation charge in 2015 for a book about human rights violations in Angola’s diamond mines.

When President Dos Santos stood down after 38 years of oppressive rule last September, his successor, João Lourenço, undertook to defend “freedom of the press.” His communication minister, João Melo, announced in an interview on 26 March that there would be a “debate (...) as soon as possible” about the decriminalization of press offences.

Angola is ranked 121st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 05.07.2018