There is a short distance between freedom and conviction in Angola. For journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais, it was one week.
Rafael went to court last Thursday and thought he reached a settlement agreement on charges of criminal defamation. Today, he received a 6 month prison sentence suspended for two years. Amnesty had called for all charges to be dropped.
Rafael has spent the better part of the last three years defending himself against defamation cases filed by generals and mining companies based on a his book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola.
In the book, Rafael alleges the generals and private companies are complicit in the human rights abuses he documented based on a chain of command theory and because they profited from the abuse.
Outrageous: Angola is now trying to silence anti-corruption journalist @RafaelMdeMorais with a prison sentence, seizure of his passport.
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) May 25, 2015
The suspended sentence means he does not go to prison today. However, if at any point in the next two years he engages in any activity the Angolan government deems criminal, he will go to prison. Rafael said today that could even be running a red traffic light.
Considering his work as a journalist, this has severe repercussions. Any article he writes that authorities decide is defamatory could send him to prison.
In 2013, Rafael was beaten and briefly detained by police while interviewing protestors in Luanda, Angola. For the next two years, that activity could mean spending 6 months in prison rather than an afternoon in jail.
Amnesty International is also concerned for Rafael’s freedom of movement. The last time Rafael was convicted for his work (he called President dos Santos a dictator), his passport was revoked for a year. He was not told at the time of sentencing this would occur, he found out when he tried to board a plane in Luanda. We are concerned the same thing will happen now.
Revoking his passport involves serious concerns for Rafael’s safety were he to ever feel he needed to leave the country and would not be able.
Amnesty International continues to monitor his case and remain engaged. We will have opportunities for action very soon.