Journalists acquitted in ruling judged ‘huge victory’ for freedom of speech in Angola

In a huge win for human rights activists and the free media in Angola, investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais and editor Mariano Bras have been acquitted of charges relating to an article published on de Morais’ website Maka Angola, which was republished in O Crime, a journal edited by Bras, in 2016. Mr Morais and Mr Bras were charged with ‘outrage to a sovereign body’ for having suggested that former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos had acted in a corrupt way in the article.

The article, entitled, ‘Angola’s Lawless Lawmen’ alleged that an Angolan public prosecutor had unlawfully purchased land as a real estate investor, in direct contravention of laws against officials engaging in certain forms of commercial activity. The article insinuated that former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos had supported these actions, thus behaving in a corrupt way. State prosecutors argued the journalists had violated the ethical principles of journalism by acting in bad faith. However the judge in the case disagreed, throwing out the charge. The judge stated that, “This court believes that we would be doing very bad as a society that wants to progress, if we punished the messengers of bad news”. If they had been convicted the pair could have served up to four and a half years in prison, each.

It is a remarkable victory for freedom of the press in Angola, however human rights organisation Human Rights Watch suggests there is still a long way to go. In 2017 former President Dos Santos passed a media law which significantly limited freedom of press in Angola. The Press Law includes an article on defamation that has enabled the prosecution of journalists who report on improper or suspicious activities by government officials. It also includes clauses which allow the Ministry of Social Communication to oversee how media organisations conduct editorial guidelines, with harsh punishments for those considered to have erred. The law also introduced excessive fees to set up media groups, news agencies, and radio stations, thus limiting those controlling and able to produce media content in the country.

If you would like to read more on Angola, ACTSA produces a quarterly publication, the Angola Monitor featuring the latest politics, economics, aid and development and human rights news from the country. 

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Robyn K