Prominent Angola activist in court over ‘insult’

Prominent Angolan human rights activist and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais appeared in court Monday on charges of insulting a public authority after questioning the integrity of a former attorney general.

The charges relate to a story Marques, 46, wrote in 2016 about the country’s former attorney general’s purchase of rural land designated for urban development.

Marques, who runs the news website Maka Angola, and Mariano Bras, another journalist who reproduced the article, face up to three years in jail.

Marques’s lawyer Horacio Junjuvili sought to have the charges dropped, arguing the case was in violation of the constitutional provision on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Marques was charged for alleging that ex-attorney general Joao Maria de Sousa exploited the country’s weak land rights laws by paying the price of rural land for what would later become prime beach-front real estate.

The Oxford-educated activist is no stranger to Angola’s courts, having been arrested and detained several times for exposing corruption.

He has also long documented human rights abuses in Angola and campaigned for greater official transparency and accountability.

In 2015, the outspoken campaigner was convicted of defaming military generals in a book he wrote and was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence.

In 1999, he was jailed for a month for criticising then president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

In September, President Joao Lourenco succeeded Dos Santos, who had ruled Angola with an iron fist for 38 years, during which time the country’s rich and powerful profited from the country’s vast oil reserves at the expense of the poor.

Lourenco assumed power on the promise of eradicating corruption. He has since fired many his predecessor’s allies and relatives.

“It is absurd that I am charged for denouncing the corruption of a prosecutor in a country whose president has specifically promised to fight corruption,” Marques told AFP before the start of the hearing.

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