Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais won a Freedom of Expression award on Wednesday from the Index on Censorship, a U.K.-based international organization that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression. Marques was praised for his work exposing corruption in government and business in Angola.
One example of his brave journalism was a Forbes article I co-wrote with Marques in 2013 spelling out the means by which Isabel dos Santos, the oldest daughter of the president of Angola, acquired a multi-billion dollar fortune, thanks primarily to kleptocratic transfers initiated by her father. A spokesman for Isabel dos Santos said that allegations of improper transfers are “groundless and completely absurd.” The article won a Loeb Award for International Reporting in June 2014.
The Freedom of Expression award was made less than a week before Marques de Morais is slated to be tried on charges of defamation and criminal libel in Angola. The charges stem from Morais’ brave work exposing human rights abuses in his country. As I explained in a December 2014 post, Morais wrote a book in Portuguese in 2011 called “Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola,” which recounts 500 cases of torture and 100 killings that took place over 18 months in a diamond-mining district in Angola. According to the book, the torture and killings were carried out by guards from a private security firm and by members of the Angolan Armed Forces.
In late 2012, nine Angolan generals and directors of the private security firm filed suit against Marques de Morais and his publisher in Portugal for libel and defamation. In February 2013, according to a post on Morais’ website Maka Angola, the Portuguese Public Prosecution Office dismissed the case, citing lack of evidence.
The Angolan generals and their partners have tried to use various arms of the Angolan justice system to prosecute Marques de Morais. The trial was originally set to start in December 2014 but was postponed until March 24 so that more of the witnesses could attend the trial.
Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and 14 other human rights and free speech groups sent a letter to the U.N. and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in August 2014 protesting the prosecution of Marques de Morais. The groups asked the African Commission and the U.N. to request that the Angolan government stop the proceedings against Marques de Morais and refrain from further prosecution. Thus far the request has not been met.
The Index on Censorship noted that Marques “has been repeatedly prosecuted for his work exposing government and industry corruption during his career. In 1999, he was arrested and detained for 40 days without charge, and denied food and water for days at a time, following an article critical of the Angolan president.”
Marques was one of two journalists who were named winners of the 2015 Freedom of Expression awards, which have been given out for 15 years. The other is Safa Al Ahmad, a female journalist from Saudi Arabia who made a documentary, “Saudi’s Secret Uprising,” which exposed details of an unreported mass uprising in Saudi Arabia. The Index on Censorship said Al Ahmad spent three years covertly filming an uprising in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, taking enormous risks in her regular filming trips.