March 6, 2000
His Excellency José Eduardo dos Santos
President of the Republic of Angola
Gabinete da Presidencia da Republica
VIA FAX: 244-2-392733/ 391476/ 331898
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns the prosecution of free-lance journalist Rafael Marques, whose trial date has been set for March 9. We believe that the charges of criminal defamation pressed against Marques, and his continued harassment by the Angolan government, reflect Your Excellency's deep-seated disregard for freedom of expression, an internationally-recognized human right. Based on this record, we have little confidence that Marques will receive a fair trial. We intend to monitor developments closely.
Marques was arrested on the morning of October 16 at his Luanda home on charges of defamation. The charges stem from an article, published in a July edition of the independent weekly newspaper Agora, in which he referred to Your Excellency as a "dictator." Police held Marques for nearly six weeks at the "Labortorio de Criminalista" prison in Luanda. On October 26, the Angolan attorney general rejected his bail application without explanation.
Marques was released on November 25, on condition that he not leave Luanda. He was also forbidden to speak to journalists or make public statements. On December 15, the Luanda Provincial Court transferred his case, without explanation, to the Supreme Court of Angola.
Around the same time, members of Your Excellency's government began a campaign of verbal abuse against Marques. During a January 19, 2000 parliamentary debate on press freedom, for example, Mendes de Carvalho, a legislator from Your Excellency's political party, stated that if Marques, 28, continued to criticize Your Excellency, he would not live to the age of 40.
Marques has been charged under Angola's notorious Law 7/78, also known as the Law on Crimes Against State Security. As Your Excellency is no doubt aware, Law 7/78 violates Article 35 of the 1992 Angolan Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.
Our sources in Luanda believe that the judge in the case is under tremendous political pressure to rule against Marques regardless of the evidence. We fear that a guilty verdict is already a foregone conclusion.
We respectfully remind Your Excellency, however, that Marques should not be facing trial in the first place, since prosecuting journalists for carrying out their professional duties violates both the Angolan Constitution and Angola's obligations under international law.
CPJ therefore urges Your Excellency to use your best offices to ensure that all charges against Rafael Marques are dropped, and that he is henceforth free to do his job without fear of official retribution.
Ann K. Cooper