Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais is once again facing the threat of prison after the public prosecutor reinstated charges of criminal defamation on Monday. Seven Angolan generals have been pursuing criminal defamation charges against the investigative journalist over the publication of his 2011 book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola, in which he documents allegations of torture, forced displacement, intimidation, and even murder in the diamond-rich Lundas region of Angola.
The Committee to Protect Journalists today joined several organizations in signing a joint letter by Human Rights Watch that urges the President of Angola to drop all charges against Marques de Morais.
At a court hearing in late March, the journalist was informed that an additional 15 charges of criminal defamation had been brought against him, bringing the total number of charges to 24. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to 14 years in prison, Marques de Morais told CPJ at the time.
On May 21, the situation for Marques de Morais appeared to have taken a positive turn. In a discussion between lawyers representing the generals and Marques de Morais, they agreed that all charges would be dropped, Marques de Morais said in an interview. He added that he had been asked to make a short symbolic statement in court and was told afterwards that he was free to go, needing to return to court this week only as a formality.
In a surprise move by the public prosecutor, Marques de Morais and his legal team were informed on Monday morning that his statement was being interpreted as a formal apology and admission of guilt. The public prosecutor reinstated the charges and is pursuing a 30-day sentence, according to news reports.
“This case has drained my energies and further impoverished me,” Marques de Morais told CPJ. He added that over the course of the trial, he has had to finance the cost of bringing eight witnesses from the diamond fields to the capital numerous times. But, he said: “One thing this pressure has done to me is to make me more resolute.”
The verdict in his case is due to be delivered on Thursday, according to reports.
A copy of the joint letter calling for charges against Marques de Morais to be dropped can be viewed here.