April 5, 2000
President José Eduardo dos Santos
Gabinete da Presidencia da Republica
VIA FAX: 244-2-392733/ 391476/ 331898
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by the prison sentences recently imposed on free-lance journalist Rafael Marques and on Aguiar dos Santos, publisher of the private weekly newspaper Agora.
On March 31, the Provincial Criminal Court of Luanda convicted Marques and dos Santos under Law 7/78, also known as the Law on Crimes Against State Security, on charges of defaming Your Excellency in two articles published last year in Agora. Marques was also convicted of defaming Angolan attorney general Domingos Culolo during an October 14, 1999, interview that aired on the Roman Catholic Church-owned station Radio Ecclesia.
Marques was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of US$16,000, while dos Santos received a two-month prison sentence and a fine of US$6,000. Both journalists were released on US$200 bail each, pending the Supreme Court's ruling on their appeals. Meanwhile, the two journalists are forbidden speak or write about the case. They have also been instructed not to travel outside the country. (A third defendant in the trial, Agora staff reporter Antonio José Freitas, was acquitted on separate charges.)
The charges that Marques had defamed Your Excellency were largely based on his article "The Lipstick of Dictatorship," which appeared in the July 3, 1999, issue of Agora. In the article, Marques expressed the opinion that Your Excellency was responsible "for the destruction of the country.... (and) for the promotion of incompetence, embezzlement and corruption as political and social values."
The charges against Aguiar dos Santos were based on his editorial "Loneliness, Power and Succession," which ran in the August 20, 1999, edition of Agora. Having surveyed Your Excellency's two consecutive decades as Angolan head of state, the editorial described you as a "manipulator" with a "Machiavellian" approach to government.
Dos Santos was never detained for his criticism, but armed officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (DNIC) arrested Marques at his Luanda home on October 16, 1999. While in prison, Marques was denied access to a lawyer and to his family. He went on hunger strike for eight days to protest his treatment. On November 25 he was formally charged with defamation and released on bail, on condition that he not leave Luanda, contact journalists, or make public statements.
The legal proceedings against Marques and dos Santos and were irregular from the very beginning. Angolan law prescribes that detained individuals should be charged within 48 hours of their arrest. Yet Marques was detained for more than a month without charges of any kind. On December 15, Marques' trial was switched from the Provincial Criminal Court in Luanda to the Supreme Court of Angola, without explanation. On March 7, the Supreme Court referred the case back to the Provincial Criminal Court, again without explanation. The trial proceeded in near-secrecy throughout March, amid ominous signs of a miscarriage of justice.
On March 23, Marques lawyer Luis Nascimento walked out of the courtroom to protest Judge Joaquim de Abreu Cangato's refusal to record an appeal he had filed to the Supreme Court alleging procedural flaws. Judge Cangato subsequently ruled that Nascimento be disbarred for six months, despite the fact that only the Angolan Bar Association can legally make such decisions. Nascimento was not allowed back in the courtroom.
Acting as his own attorney, Marques was allowed only one defense witness, Fernando Macedo, an Angolan human-rights activist. On March 28, Judge Cangato dismissed Macedo's testimony, which questioned the constitutionality of the charges against Marques. The judge then ordered Macedo to leave the courtroom and "discuss those issues elsewhere." On March 31, Marques was convicted in the presence of his new lawyer, Anacleta Perreira, who subsequently filed his appeal to the Supreme Court.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, CPJ believes that the convictions of dos Santos and Marques violates the Angolan Constitution's freedom of expression clause along with several international covenants, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees all people, including journalists, the right to seek, receive, and circulate information freely.
The illegal prosecution of these journalists for their work cast serious doubts over Your Excellency's commitment to press freedom in Angola. CPJ therefore urges Your Excellency to ensure that the convictions of Aguiar dos Santos and Rafael Marques are immediately and unconditionally reversed, that Law 7/78 is repealed, and that all Angolan journalists may exercise their right to criticize government officials, Your Excellency included, without fear of reprisals.
We await your comments on this urgent matter.
Ann K. Cooper