A court in Luanda, Angola’s capital, on Friday acquitted investigative journalist Rafael Marques and editor Mariano Bras on accusations of insulting the state, a ruling that the Human Rights Watch described as a ‘huge victory for press freedom’ in the country.
The two journalists were charged last year with insulting a public authority after they published an article that alleged that former Attorney-General Joao Maria de Sousa had acquired land illegally.
The article, first published on Marques’ website MakaAngola in November 2016 and re-published by O Crime, edited by Bras, alleged that de Sousa unlawfully acted as a property and real estate developer in addition to his official duties. It also suggested that former President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos supported the attorney general’s actions.
State prosecutors argued that the journalists acted in bad faith and violated the ethical principles of journalism. If convicted, they faced a three year jail term.
‘Victory for press freedom’
In reading the almost three-hour long verdict, judge Josina Ferreira Falcão acknowledged that the real estate transaction was “tainted with irregularities” and that the article fulfilled the journalistic duty to inform the public and expose alleged wrongdoing.
“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,” she said.
“This court… therefore decides to send them back to their families at liberty and peace,” the judge ruled.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed the surprise ruling, considering that Angola is a country where the media has been on a tight leash, with authorities often repressing coverage of cases of corruption involving government officials, through intimidation and abusive use of defamation laws.
“While the whole affair should never have taken place, (we) welcome this outcome,” the CPJ said.
Marques has won several international awards for his investigative reporting including the 2018 World Press Freedom Hero Award.