(Johannesburg) – Angolan authorities should drop politically motivated charges against the author Rafael Marques de Morais and two other human rights activist.
On May 28, 2015, Luanda’s provincial court sentenced Marques de Morais to six months in prison, suspended for two years, on charges stemming from his writing about alleged corruption and human rights violations. The activists José Marcos Mavungo and Arão Bula Tempo were arrested on March 14, 2015, in connection with efforts to organize a peaceful protest that day in Angola’s oil-rich enclave of Cabinda.
“The Angolan government is using the courts to silence activists who express their views in print or through peaceful protests,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “As Rafael Marques de Morais’s profoundly flawed trial shows, Angola’s judiciary has failed to stop these abuses of state power.”
The prosecution and trial of Marques de Morais were marked by serious violations of his fair trial rights, including the right to be informed of the charges, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and the right against self-incrimination, said international trial observers who attended the proceedings, which were closed to the public.
The charges against Marques de Morais stem from his 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, which documented how Angolan military officials and private security companies killed and terrorized Angolan villagers to protect lucrative diamond mining operations. The book describes 500 cases of torture and 100 killings by alleged private security guards and Angolan soldiers in the Cuango and Xá-Muteba districts.
Marques de Morais filed a criminal complaint in Luanda in 2011, accusing nine Angolan generals of crimes against humanity in connection with the diamond mining. Angola’s attorney-general dismissed the complaint in November 2011 and there have been no government investigations into the killings and torture detailed in the book.
In response to his complaint, eight of the generals and some of their fellow board members of two diamond companies, Sociedade Mineira do Cuango (SMC) and ITM-Mining, filed a number of lawsuits against Marques de Morais, alleging criminal defamation. Their lawsuit in Portugal, where Marques de Morais’ book was published, was dismissed for lack of evidence in March 2013, but the generals also launched a second lawsuit in Angola.
The trial in Angola raises serious concerns about the conduct of the prosecution and the judiciary, Human Rights Watch said. Although Marques de Morais was summoned and interrogated several times in 2013 and told that there were defamation charges lodged against him, he was unable to learn the precise charges and obtain the case file for months after the lawsuit against him was apparently filed.
In April 2014, Marques de Morais finally learned that he was charged with eight counts of “slanderous denunciation” under article 245 of the Angolan Penal Code. When he appeared in court for the first time on March 24, 2015, he learned of 15 new charges of criminal defamation.
In May, Marques de Morais reached a settlement with the complainants in which he agreed to make a statement in court and the charges would be dropped. The agreement, which was discussed in court on May 21 and noted by international observers as well as legal representatives of all the parties, was also acknowledged by the prosecution and the judge.
However, on May 25, at the final court hearing, the prosecution suddenly announced that it was proceeding with the charges and was submitting Marques de Morais’ statement on May 21 as evidence of a “confession.”
On May 28, the court then inexplicably convicted Marques de Morais on 12 charges, even though he was originally being tried on only eight. Marques de Morais is appealing the six-month sentence, suspended for two years.
The sudden reinstatement of the charges on May 25 and the lack of opportunity for Marques de Morais’ legal team to present a defense, including witnesses to support his case, violate the right to a fair trial under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Angola has ratified both. Furthermore, the prosecution’s use of Marques de Morais’ May 21 statement in court as a confession is a violation of his internationally protected right against self-incrimination.
“The Marques de Morais trial is so riddled with flaws that it barely deserves the name,” Lefkow said. “Without valid grounds to prosecute him, the Angolan authorities should reverse course and immediately drop the case.”
The Angolan government should also drop the charges against Mavungo and Tempo, both human rights activists from Cabinda who were detained on March 14, apparently in connection with their efforts to organize a peaceful demonstration over corruption, human rights violations, and poor governance in Cabinda. Both men face charges of committing crimes against the security of the state.
Mavungo is vice president of the Cabinda-based human rights organization Mpalabanda Civic Association of Cabinda (Mpalabanda Associação Civica de Cabinda, ACC). The government banned the group in 2006, and an appeal is pending.
Credible sources said that a group of police officers arrested Mavungo without a warrant at a church on March 14. The governor of Cabinda had banned the peaceful demonstration he had planned for that day, although authorization is not required for peaceful demonstrations.
Mavungo was initially charged with sedition, a public order offense, but on March 20 the charge was changed to “rebellion,” a state security crime. Under Angolan law, a person can be detained up to 90 days for a state security crime, twice that for a public order crime. Although Mavungo has been told that the charges have been formalized, he has not received the detailed charges and indictment.
Mavungo remains in detention in poor health, with cardiac and liver problems, but has been denied regular access to his physician. A credible source told Human Rights Watch that Mavungo has been hospitalized twice since being detained.
Tempo is a human rights lawyer and Cabinda provincial bar association president. The authorities detained him on March 14 at the Provincial Directorate of Criminal Investigation in Cabinda, apparently because they suspected him of inviting journalists from the Republic of Congo to the planned demonstration. On March 17 he was informed that he was being held on suspicion of “collaboration with foreigners to constrain the Angolan state.” He was provisionally released on May 13.
“Jose Marcos Mavungo should be released immediately so that he can receive proper medical care,” Lefkow said. “The authorities should drop these spurious cases so that both activists can continue their lawful work and activity.”