Rafael Marques de Morais, the multi-award winning investigative journalist and human rights defender from Angola, was last week denied a visa to Canada – which has been accused of undermining the fight against corruption in Angola.
Marques was planning to visit his teenage son, a Canadian citizen who studies at a high school in Toronto. But the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria, which handles visa applications from Angola, had other ideas.
According to the Globe & Mail, which broke the story, Canadian officials were not convinced that Marques would return to Angola. In addition, “outstanding criminal charges” against Marques counted against him – even though those charges are widely considered to be politically motivated, and a direct consequence of his hard-hitting journalism, which has exposed corruption at the highest levels of the Angolan government.
“It’s demeaning when western countries, or in this particular case the Canadians, think that everyone wants to emigrate there. I’ve been at the forefront of fighting for changes in my country because I love my country and I want to experience the changes that I am fighting for. Not every activist wants to run away,” said Marques, in an interview with the Mail & Guardian.
Marques said the reasons offered for by the Canadian High Commission were “insulting”.
“They sent me a letter saying it was not satisfactory because I don’t have assets in Angola to make me stay in the country. I said I’m an activist, how do they expect me to be rich?” he said.
“I gave my bank statements, and I had $50 000 in my account [from an annual grant he receives for his work] and they said that is not enough for me to go to Canada to visit my son for 15 days. And then they said I had a criminal record, and that is bullshit, because I attached a copy of a certificate from the Ministry of Justice and it clearly says I have a clean record. In any case, the current prosecution is a political case.”
Marques is being prosecuted in Angola on charges of causing “insult and outrage to the sovereign body”. The charges stem from a story he published on his online media outlet, Maka Angola, which raises suspicions of corruption against Angola’s former attorney general João Maria de Sousa.
Marques laughs at the idea that he would want to remain in Canada. “In 2015, I received award in Canada and I stayed less than 10 days, because it’s not really a place where I want to stay long. Besides the family ties, I have no reason to stay. I travel all over the world all the time and if I wanted to immigrate to a different country, I would – but it probably wouldn’t be Canada.”
Marques said he will now arrange to meet his son in the United States, the only western country where he has never had trouble obtaining a visa.
Even travelling to Canada in 2015, to receive Allard Prize for International Integrity from the University of British Columbia, Marques said he struggled to obtain a visa. It was only after an intervention from a senior official in South Africa’s department of international relations that the visa was eventually granted.
Marques said that his anti-corruption work has always made him unpopular with western embassies in Angola, again with the exception of the United States. “There was a time here when embassies would band together to make it extremely difficult for me to get a visa. All I have had is bad blood with embassies. They always want to protect their own business interests in Angola, so they always try to make my life really difficult.”
He added: “I laugh when I hear embassies say they support civil society and anti-corruption in Angola, that’s bullshit. They have always supported the kind of work that didn’t make a dent on these issues. It was window dressing.”
Justin Pearce, a writer and researcher on Angola at Cambridge University, slammed the Canadian decision:
“It’s hard to know to what extent this is a symptom of the knee-jerk racism that increasingly informs the decisions about visas made by consular bureaucrats in many western countries, and to what extent it’s a deliberate attempt to exclude Rafael Marques. The High Commission suggestion that Rafael has only weak ties to Angola and might want to remain in Canada is beyond ludicrous. Despite periods of study and frequent travel all over the world, including to Canada, Rafael has always demonstrated his commitment to returning to Angola and continuing his work from inside the country.”
The Canadian High Commission in South Africa said it was not able to comment on individual visa applications. However, a senior official told the Mail & Guardian that Marques was welcome to appeal the decision, and could consider other routes to enter Canada, such as permanent residency.