Angolan generals take on journalist

The defamation trial of Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, accused of libelling seven of the country’s military generals in a book he wrote, kicked off in Luanda on Tuesday. 

The generals are suing him – it could cost him $1.2-million (R14.1-million) in damages and nine years in prison – after he had asked that they be investigated for human rights abuses.

In his 2011 book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola De Morais exposed some 500 cases of torture and 100 murders that allegedly involved villagers in the Caungo and Xá-Muteba districts in Lunda Norte, northeast Angola. 

The generals are shareholders in mining company SMC and security company Teleservice.

As the start of Tuesday’s trial, De Morais handed copies of his book to the court. 

The prosecutor argued the trial be held in camera because publicity from the book and trial would reflect negatively on the generals. He said that, according to the penal code, defamation cases were not to be held with the public present.

The case was adjourned to April?23 after the jury asked for more time to assess the defence arguments. Activists who had gathered outside the court were reportedly harassed by the police and dispersed.

In November 2011 De Morais filed a case with the Angolan attorney general calling on authorities to investigate the shareholders’ moral responsibility. 

In November 2012, the generals attempted to sue De Morais and his publisher, Tinta da China. The Portuguese attorney general dismissed the case for lack of evidence, saying the book was well researched.

In April 2013 the generals filed 11 charges, including defamation, against De Morais. The department for combating organised crime in the National Criminal Investigation Directorate named him as a suspect under investigation. 

Tuesday’s trial involves charges drafted by the attorney general over allegations that De Morais defamed the generals in 2011.

In an article in the Guardian on Monday, De Morais wrote about the difficulty he experienced as a journalist in Angola, detailing his arrest in 1999 for calling President José Eduardo dos Santos a dictator.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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