New York, March 31, 2000 --- A Luanda court today convicted Angolan journalist Rafael Marques of defaming President José Eduardo dos Santos in an October 1999 article. Marques was sentenced to six months in prison, but the sentence was suspended pending appeal, sources in Luanda told CPJ.
New York, March 29, 2000 --- Prosecution witnesses in the trial of Angolan journalist Rafael Marques claimed yesterday that Marques had humiliated the government of President Eduardo dos Santos, tarnished the honor and dignity of the president himself, and demoralized the Angolan army, all by publishing an article in which he described President dos Santos as a "dictator," according to CPJ's sources in Luanda.
Marques trial lawyer walks out after being denied right to read appeal motion
March 23, 2000 --- The trial of Angolan free-lance journalist Rafael Marques, which resumed today in the Provincial Criminal Court of Luanda, was again adjourned to March 28 amid ominous signs of miscarriage of justice, sources in Angola told CPJ.
Marques trial adjourned to March 23 amid growing doubts about fairness
New York, March 21, 2000 --- The trial of Angolan free-lance journalist Rafael Marques, which was last adjourned on March 10, resumed today at 9:30 in the Provincial Criminal Court in Luanda, sources in Angola told CPJ.
After 30 minutes, Judge Joaquim de Abreu Cangato excluded the public from the courtroom. Officials from the US and Portuguese embassies, several human rights activists, and journalists were among those in attendance, until they were all forced to leave. Judge Cangato has no legal training, according to CPJ's sources.
The trial continued all day in secrecy. At the end of the hearing, a visibly exhausted Marques told friends and reporters outside the courtroom that the trial had been adjourned until Thursday, March 23.
Judge Cangato has been presiding over the Marques trial since it began in early March. A former member of the Angolan secret police, Cangato has apparently never studied law or any related discipline.
Marques' judge has no legal training, sources say
New York, March 20, 2000 --- Judge Joaquim de Abreu Cangato, who has been presiding over the trial of Angolan free-lance journalist Rafael Marques since it began in early March, has no legal background, according to CPJ's sources in Luanda.
Marques trial adjourned until March 21
New York, March 10, 2000 --- The trial of Angolan free-lance journalist Rafael Marques, which began yesterday in Luanda before a packed audience of local and international observers, was adjourned until March 21 pending a Supreme Court ruling on an appeal filed by the defense, sources in Luanda told CPJ.
Marques' lawyers will offer "truth defense" in tomorrow's trial
New York, March 8, 2000 --- Defense lawyers for Angolan free-lance journalist Rafael Marques, whose trial on defamation charges begins tomorrow in the Supreme Court, will raise both substantive and procedural arguments for dismissal, according to CPJ's sources in Luanda. Marques is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by President José Eduardo Dos Santos.
On the procedural front, defense lawyers will seek to nullify the proceedings on the grounds that neither Marques nor his two codefendants have been duly instructed of the charges that they face. In particular, the prosecution has never specified what part of Marques' writings are allegedly libelous. Nor do the charges specify the legal provisions under which the three defendants are being charged.
If this argument fails, Marques is expected to offer a detailed explanation of his writings, in order to support the argument that his work was intended solely to criticize the political behavior of Angola's ruler, and that no opinion was expressed about Dos Santos' moral behavior as an individual. In other words, Marques' criticisms were directed at the president's performance of his public duties, and not at his honor as a private Angolan citizen.
In blaming widespread corruption and incompetence in the Angolan administration on President Dos Santos' leadership, Marques was simply exercising his constitutional right to express political opinions. In the unlikely event that the president accepts Marques' explanation, the trial will be over.
If the president does not accept Marques' explanation, the defense is expected to argue that Marques' descriptions of the president's corrupt and incompetent administration are not libelous because they are true. The defense will submit as evidence, among other items, many writings of President Dos Santos in which the plaintiff denounces corruption in Angola, and ask that he take the stand to testify on the issue. In the even more unlikely event that the president agrees to testify, he will also be asked to comment on the verbal abuse of Marques by several government officials, and to state whether he condones these attacks.
Angolan legal experts say it is doubtful that the court will accept this "truth defense," since Angolan press law forbids defense by truth when the plaintiff is the president. The defense may then argue that this provision is incompatible with the Angolan Constitution as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone should have the right to freedom of expression and access to information. At the very least, truth must be a defense in the case of writings that address the president's political behavior and performance, as opposed to his personal life.
Marques trial to begin Thursday
New York, March 6, 2000 -- Freelance journalist Rafael Marques is preparing to stand trial for criminal defamation, because he dared to describe President José Eduardo Dos Santos as a "dictator." Marques, whose trial date has been repeatedly postponed, most recently from March 7 to March 9, has been charged under Angola's notorious Law 7/78, also known as the Law on Crimes Against State Security, which was widely used against anti-colonial militants before independence in 1975.
Under Law 7/78, according to Angolan legal experts, hearings on libel proceedings may be held in secrecy, under the rationale that giving the allegedly defamatory writings more publicity would be a further invasion of the plaintiff's right to privacy. Marques' lawyers have argued that because the plaintiff is not an individual, but rather the Office of the Presidency, the issue of privacy does not arise.
Law 7/78 further stipulates that when the victim is a public official, as in this case, the truth of the allegations is not a valid defense against libel charges. This means that Marques' lawyers will not be allowed to submit evidence in support of the allegations for which he has been charged. These rules are clearly inconsistent with minimum standards for due process, including presumption of innocence. If they are applied, the Marques trial will be a travesty of justice.
The trial has attracted a number of journalists, jurists, NGO and human rights activists to Luanda. It is not yet clear whether international observers will be allowed to attend the trial. The Supreme Court's decision on this matter will further test the legitimacy of the trial itself.
CPJ will be monitoring developments closely, with the assistance of correspondents in Luanda.
Background: the Marques Case
On October 16, 1999, at 6 a.m., officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (DNIC) arrested Rafael Marques, a 28-year-old freelance journalist who also represents the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa in Angola. Marques was arrested at his Luanda home and charged with defamation in connection with an article titled "The Lipstick of Dictatorship," which ran under his byline in the July 3, 1999, edition of the independent weekly Agora.
In the article, Marques claimed that Angolan president José Eduardo Dos Santos was responsible for "the destruction of the country... (and) for the promotion of incompetence, embezzlement and corruption as political and social values." Marques also called Dos Santos a "dictator."
Marques was initially refused access to a lawyer and to his family. He went on hunger strike for eight days to protest his detention. He was released on bail on November 25, on condition that he not leave Luanda, contact journalists, or make public statements. On December 15, his trial was switched from the Provincial Court to the Supreme Court. No explanation was given.
If convicted, Marques faces two to eight years in prison. Some sources have speculated that he may be convicted but given a suspended sentence.
Background: Press Freedom in Angola
The Marques trial unfolds against a backdrop of civil war and state repression, both of which have had negative results for the independent Angolan press. In late 1998, the breakdown of the 1994 Lusaka peace accords led to the resumption of a brutal civil war that has killed more than half a million Angolans and devastated the country's economy. Since then there has been a marked increase in the frequency and seriousness of reported press freedom violations in Angola.
At the beginning of January, 1998, the government effectively imposed a news blackout on coverage of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). In a memo disseminated via state media, the Ministry of Social Communication said Angolan journalists should not even refer to the war, although state media continued to issue reports that minimized government setbacks and characterized UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi as a war criminal.
While some independent journalists were cowed, others tried to cover both sides of the story. This resulted in an editorial in the government-owned Jornal de Angola that accused independent media of "facilitating" UNITA's fight against the government.
Shortly afterwards, on January 11, two journalists with the independent Radio Morena in Benguela were arrested after the station re-broadcast a Portuguese state television interview with a UNITA official.
On March 1, 1998, the Ministry of Social Communication banned reporting on draft evasion. "Publishing news and broadcasting radio programs inciting young people to evade the military draft... constitutes a grave violation of the press law, of the military law, and of other ordinary laws of the country, making their perpetrators liable to sanctions of the law," the statement said. "Those who insist on prevaricating face the sanction of the law including, among others, the cancellation of the license to publish and withdrawal of the license to broadcast."
On April 3, William Tonet, editor of the independent newspaper Folha 8, was interrogated by state security officers in connection with articles in his newspaper that allegedly incited young men to evade military duty. On April 29, Voice of America reporter Josefa Lamberga was assaulted by an Angolan army corporal while researching an article on draft evasion.
On June 1, Minister of Social Communication Hendrik Vaal Neto threatened to shut down independent media that failed to support the government's war effort against the UNITA rebel movement. The minister accused the independent press of "supporting Savimbi's propaganda," characterized certain news reports as "unpatriotic," and claimed that they effectively incited young men to avoid conscription.
CPJ protested Neto's comments in a June 4, 1998, letter to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. In a response to CPJ dated June 23, the minister said the purpose of his June 1 statement was "merely to remind the bad, less competent and insidious journalists that they should carry out their profession with respect and within the parameters established by law," and that the government of Angola had never intended to "harass any journalist or shut down the private media."
Meanwhile, the independent press experienced ever more brutal repression. On August 9, police raided the studios of Radio Ecclesia, a Roman Catholic FM station in Luanda, while the station was re-broadcasting a BBC interview with Savimbi. Police arrested a total of nine journalists in connection with this broadcast. The authorities then forced Radio Ecclesia to sign an agreement stating that it would not refer to Jonas Savimbi or UNITA on the air without prior permission from the government.
Radio Ecclesia was accused of having violated "the internal and external security of the state" under Angola's notorious Law 7/78, also known as the Law on Crimes against State Security. This law clearly violates Article 35 of the 1992 Angolan Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. However, the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court in Angola means that Law 7/78 cannot be challenged.
Between August 19 and September 6, police interrogated at least seven journalists in various parts of Angola as the government stepped up its campaign to deter independent reporting on the civil war. In late September, however, there were signs that the government might moderate its generally hostile attitude toward independent journalism in Angola. On September 23, Attorney General Domingos Culolo issued a statement recognizing "the value and benefit of the press in a democratic state" and praising the press' role in "the permanent fight against all forms of illegalities in general and crime in particular."
Culolo said his office would "continue to guarantee legality in general and from that perspective, it will maintain its role in the prosecution of fraudulent and negligent violations of the juridical norms in force, including abuses of authority and the press."
The statement followed a meeting between Attorney General Culolo and the secretary general of the Angolan Union of Journalists, Avelino Miguel. During the meeting, Miguel stressed that working conditions for journalists in Angola had deteriorated in recent months.
Despite Culolo's encouraging response, Angolan journalists continued to be harassed and intimidated for doing their jobs. The October 4 arrest of Folha 8 editor William Tonet was one of many incidents in an apparent government campaign to silence Tonet and his newspaper for daring to cover Savimbi and the UNITA movement.