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Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Angolan journalist faces criminal libel charges

Rafael Marques had exposed human rights abuses in country’s diamond mining industry 

By: Sasu Siegelbaum, IPI Contributor

The President of the Israel Diamond Exchange Shmuel Schnitzer looks at an eleven karat South African diamond in Tel Aviv June 15, 2000. Reuters NB/ME.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today denounced criminal defamation proceedings brought by Angola’s attorney general against Angolan journalist and activist Rafael Marques on June 6. IPI calls on Angolan authorities to drop all charges against Marques and to ensure that journalists are not targeted for publishing information of public importance.

In 2011 Marques published a book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and torture in Angola, which documented human rights abuses in Angola’s lucrative diamond mining industry. He subsequently filed a criminal complaint against top Angolan generals over their alleged knowledge and complicity in these abuses.

The generals responded by filing an unsuccessful libel case against Marques in Portugal, and then initiating criminal defamation proceedings against him in Angola. The plaintiffs are civilian business partners of Angolan generals, the alleged perpetrators of the crimes as outlined in the book.

“Rafael Marques’s work on the diamond mining industry goes to the heart of what courageous investigative journalism is all about,” IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said. “These charges appear to be nothing more than an effort to silence the inconvenient conclusions of Marques’s book, and demonstrate exactly why IPI works to abolish criminal defamation laws across the world.  We call upon Angolan authorities to drop their case against Marques immediately.”

Angola is among the world’s largest producers of diamonds and, according to Marques, the country’s mining industry is plagued by murders, beatings, arbitrary detentions, forced displacement of civilian settlements, and intimidation of inhabitants, especially in the Lundas region. As a result of his investigation, Marques called on foreign countries to boycott Angola’s diamonds.

Marques won the Civil Courage Prize in 2006, which is awarded to activists who endanger themselves in the interest of human rights. He has previously been targeted by Angolan authorities for his journalism. In 2002 Marques was convicted of defaming the President of Angola, a decision that the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found violated the right to free speech. In its conclusions, the UNHRC also asked Angola to ensure that such prosecutions did not occur again.

The Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) has announced it will assist Marques with his legal proceedings. MLDI, along with 15 press freedom and human rights groups, has also written to Angola's Attorney General, João Maria de Sousa, urging him to drop the defamation charges and investigate the allegations in Marques’ book, and reminding him of the UNHRC’s 2005 ruling that the Angolan State pay damages to Marques in connection with his unlawful detention and conviction for defaming President José Eduardo dos Santos. Thus far, the Angolan government has refused pay damages to the journalist.

 
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