Angolan journalist's struggle for truth and justicePublished by MAC on 2014-11-13
Source: Guardian (2014-11-13)
The Angolan human rights worker, journalist and political activist, Rafael Marques de Morais, delivered the Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture at Witwatersrand University in South Africa on November 11th.
For several years, Snr Marques de Morais has worked to expose corruption and torture associated with Angola's diamond industry.
Now he faces nine separate trials in Angola for his reporting on these issues.
'No politician, however strong, will stop me doing my job'
Journalist Rafael Marques de Morais is facing nine separate trials in Angola for his reporting on human rights abuses and corruption. He delivers a tribute to slain colleagues and a plea for press freedom
Rafael Marques de Morais
Published on the Guardian website
11 November 2014
An edited version of the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture delivered at Wits University by Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais
First, I would like to share with you a personal experience I had with Carlos Cardoso, the great friend I never had the chance to meet personally.
Back in 1999, when I was jailed in Angola for calling the president, José Eduardo Dos Santos, a dictator and corrupt, Carlos Cardoso was instrumental in mobilising lawyers, journalists and concerned Mozambicans to lend their support to me.
Upon my release we began a regular email correspondence that went beyond my legal battles, conviction, political persecution and travel ban. We broadened the conversation on teaming up to chiefly expose the scourge of corruption in both our countries. We believed in conquering the public space for the freedoms of speech and of the press to take root.
We made the struggle for that public space ours. While Carlos was breaking ground as a full-time journalist, I was running an international organisation providing, among others, support to the emerging independent media. I kept writing to affect public opinion.
I promised Carlos that once I was allowed to travel I would first go to Mozambique, to finally meet him; thank him in person, and take our “conspiracy” to another level. I did keep my promise, but only to pay my respects to his widow. I was finally allowed to travel two months after he was brutally murdered, in November 2000.
Although I had received much international support, Carlos’ solidarity was the most inspiring for me. He was a professional, whose very work of exposing corruption and the ills of the Mozambican rulers as well as their business proxies, had put his life in the firing line. Yet, he was my brother-in-arms in the same trench as I was and he watched my back. I could not watch his. But today, his legacy is embedded in my work, as an investigative journalist. So is the legacy of my late compatriot Ricardo Melo, whose life was also cut short by bullets in his prime, in 1995, for investigating corruption and the ills of the Angolan rulers.
Today I am here to talk about freedom of expression as a struggle in countries in which the powers that be have been operating above the law. These are the ones for whom the law is a tool of personal power. These are the strongmen who thrive on their ability to keep people in fear.
I am here to talk about the courage, the leadership, and the solidarity that are required to bring down the walls of fear, and with them the fear-mongers.
As I learned from Carlos and those fellow prisoners who welcomed me in jail, being more concerned with others’ well being is the most expressive form of being concerned with our own humanity.
Tonight, I would like to address: first, what is happening in the Sadc (the Southern African Development Community); second, Ethiopia for its worst record of abuses against journalists; and, then my experiences in pushing the boundaries for freedom of expression in Angola.
African Union chair Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma. African Union chair Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma. Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
In the Sadc region, there are three countries where such a struggle for freedom of expression is of particular concern: Angola, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. What these countries have in common is that their heads of state are among the five longest serving in Africa. President José Eduardo dos Santos has been in power for 35 years, Robert Mugabe for 34, and King Mswati III for 28. They are all enemies of the free press. The difference among them is in the methods they use to silence dissent, and what they have to offer or not to the international community, in exchange for legitimacy.
For instance, recently the African Union commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, defended president Dos Santos’ long-tenure in an interview to Radio France International (RFI).
She said president Dos Santos has stayed in power for too long for “objective reasons”, and that now he is a democratically elected leader, “who has not stayed beyond what his constitution allows him.”
Dr Dlamini Zuma remarked how president Dos Santos’ government “is doing a lot to improve the lives of the people in Angola, and how such benefits are the reason “why Angolans voted for him.”
Such misguided remarks illustrate how important freedom of expression is to educate and to keep politicians in check.
Dr Dlamini Zuma was apparently unaware that a new constitution came into effect in Angola in 2010, which establishes that the president is neither elected directly by the people nor by parliament. The first name on the closed candidates’ list of the party that wins the elections automatically becomes the president. In other words, Mr Dos Santos changed the constitution in order to extend his mandate, and consolidate his absolute rule. He has the sole power to put together that closed list on behalf of his ruling MPLA.
Robert Mugabe, outside of Africa, is an international pariah. King Mswati III attracts fresh attention whenever he takes another wife for his harem. His country is too poor to deserve much international attention.
As for the media and civil societies in the three aforementioned countries, there is a paradox. Zimbabwe has a vibrant, very skilled media and civil society sector. For years, there has been an outpouring of support from the international community for civil society and the opposition. But oppression has triumphed, the opposition has crumbled and the press continues to be prosecuted. In Angola, in which the equivalent sectors have had negligible international support, it is corruption that has further weakened civil society. Little remains of the independent press, and the opposition.
Currently, there is arguably no more inspirational example of the struggle for freedom of expression than the cases of prominent human rights attorney Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu, both from Swaziland. On 25 July both received two-year prison sentences for articles they had written criticising the lack of judicial independence in their country. The Swazi constitution protects their rights to free speech and freedom of expression. But the king’s court overrules such rights to suppress challenges to its rule.
In his stand against the dictatorial regime of King Mswati II, Thulani Maseko read from the dock: “When freedom is taken away, it becomes the onerous and supreme duty of men to reclaim it from the oppressor. For giving up freedom is tantamount to giving away man’s right to dignity.”
Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu are leading by example the struggle for freedom of expression in Swaziland. Maseko has used his time in the dock to strengthen his resolve to stand for what he believes in. “The path to freedom goes through prison, but the triumph of justice over evil is inevitable,” Maseko says.
I had the honor to add my voice to the Swazi Justice Campaign to free Maseko and Makhubu. Like the courage to speak truth to power, the will of solidarity is a matter of individual conscience. Both have shown that they are not afraid, and we must watch their backs.
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, journalists have recently celebrated a small victory in their quest for free speech. Journalists Constantine Chimakure and Vincent Kahiya succeeded in their appeal to the Constitutional Court, which declared unconstitutional the legal prohibition on publishing “false statements”. Both had been prosecuted for a story in which they exposed intelligence and police officers for taking part in the kidnapping of opposition and human rights activists, in 2008.
The Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe director, Andy Moyse, summarises this struggle: “Now, as the political opposition disintegrates, it is more important than ever that the media remind those in authority – whoever they are – that we live in a democracy and that the people’s opinion – even and especially dissenting opinion – matters and the people should be free to express them.”
Then there is the case of Ethiopia, which hosts the headquarters of the African Union. Rather than being the symbol of an African renaissance anchored on the respect of human rights, Ethiopia stands out for leading the continent in the opposite direction. In 2012, the country prosecuted and convicted several independent journalists, including veteran Eskinder Nega, for alleged “terrorist” activities.
In March this year, a collective of young bloggers was arrested and detained — initially without charge. The trial against the Zone9 bloggers is ongoing. They, too, are being charged with “terrorist” activities. Meanwhile, last week, the courts in Ethiopia sentenced the editor of the now-defunct newspaper Feteh, one of the last truly independent publications in the country, to three years imprisonment on charges of defamation and incitement.
The last few independent Ethiopian journalists have been arrested and convicted. The situation has worsened, and it indeed shows the hypocrisy of the African Union as an organisation representing all Africans. It does nothing about it.
There is much courage and fearlessness among Ethiopian journalists, as the case of Eskinder Nega who, since 2012, has been serving an 18-year prison sentence. What was his crime? He published an article criticising the Ethiopian government for using the terrorism law to silence its critics. He called for the respect of freedom of expression. We African journalists and human rights campaigners must be embarrassed for doing so little to support our peers in Ethiopia.
Why is it such a struggle to keep the strongmen in their place and let society flourish in accordance to our constitutions, which incorporate freedom of expression and the respect for human rights? How does repression triumph over people’s will to speak their mind?
An Angolan peasant, on hearing her son, who is a well-known member of the opposition, complaining about the government’s abuses and rigging of elections, asked him: “Aren’t you men, like they are? Don’t you wear pants too? So, what is wrong with you, that they keep humiliating you?”
These rulers are not afraid to take leadership and do whatever they like to make their point, and there is solidarity among them.
We, on the other hand, lack the leadership and solidarity to harness the courage, the resilience and the strong will of colleagues like Eskinder Nega. Prior to his current sentence, he had been arrested six times. His wife, journalist Serkalem Fasil, gave birth to their son Nafkot while in prison in 2005. Eskinder was in prison at the time too.
Ethiopia, let us not forget, is the host country of the African Union, which represents us all. We must put pressure on the African Union for its complicity in the abuses in Ethiopia. We can even campaign to get the African Union moved out of Ethiopia to a country that respects basic human rights.
The African Union building in Addis Ababa, which was donated by China. The African Union building in Addis Ababa, which was donated by China.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues
Before I run out of time, let me share some insights on Angola.
What existed of independent media is now under the control of proxies of the regime, and the internet has emerged as the last frontier for freedom of expression. First, I will explain how the regime is attempting to control it through threats of prosecution: the fear-mongering strategy.
The country has produced an extraordinary narrative of how the judiciary can go wild and become nonsensical in prosecuting freedom of expression. In January, 2013, a popular diaspora-based website on Angola, Club-K, reprinted an article by the Portuguese weekly newspaper Expresso on an investigation opened in Portugal against the attorney general of Angola, General João Maria Moreira de Sousa. The Portuguese public prosecution service was investigating the Angolan general for money-laundering and fraud.
The suspect acknowledged the case in interviews. He claimed his innocence and pledged his cooperation with the Portuguese authorities to clear his name. General João Maria never disputed the facts articulated by Expresso. But the office of the Attorney General indicted an Angolan member of the diaspora, South Africa-based José Gama, who was visiting the country, on suspicions that he had ties to Club-K.
José Gama was placed under a travel ban, which was lifted after a public outcry, and he is currently waiting to be tried for the “crime of insulting a public official, defamation and slander.”
There is another case in which Gama, and another individual suspected of having ties to Club-K, Lucas Pedro, stand accused of the same crimes. In this case, family members of a detainee published a signed letter detailing how their relative had been tortured while in the custody of the National Directorate for Criminal Investigation. This institution never disputed the letter or prosecuted the family, but went after the messengers.
These examples demonstrate how difficult it can be, in Angola, to simply reprint an undisputed article of the international press or the posting of a family letter denouncing torture.
Posting flyers in the streets can be life-threatening as well. On November 23, it will be the first anniversary of the execution of a political activist, Manuel de Carvalho Ganga, by a member of the presidential security guard. He was posting some flyers on the walls of the Coqueiros football stadium in central Luanda, calling for justice in the case of two activists who had been executed the year before by police and security forces.
He was arrested by the presidential guard, taken to their barracks a few steps from the presidential palace, and shot in the back. The police attacked his funeral procession with disproportional force, firing tear gas from a helicopter at the crowd, just because people were chanting for justice.
I am no stranger to the wilderness of the Angolan judiciary. On September 20, 2013, I was arrested a few yards from the courtroom where I had gone to cover the trial of eight anti-Dos Santos protesters. The judge had conditionally released them, but it was a short-lived freedom. I was interviewing them when a total of 54 Rapid Intervention Police officers fully armed with machine guns, driving in a convoy of five vehicles, including an assault car, surrounded and arrested us.
Journalist Alexandre Solombe, who was by my side waiting to give me a lift, was arrested too, and so was a third journalist who showed up just minutes before the arrest.
What was striking was not the stomping on the back I received directly from the police commander. It was not the severe blow with a baton to the back of my neck. I did not complain about the destruction of my brand new camera. It was not even the fact that the police filmed us being abused at the heaquarters of this infamous unit for the pleasure of their superiors. It seemed to be a routine that the journalists were then left off the hook after several hours, along with a businessman turned civic activist, who had been arrested while filming our detention from his nice office. It was normal that the youth would spend a few more days in jail, and be taunted. Why not?
Three days later, on September 23, 2013, the same youths who had been re-arrested for giving me an interview, were arraigned in court again. Judge Josefina Pedro was very clear in her deliberations. She said they deserved to be punished for talking to me. There was no other accusation or evidence presented against the youth. She said that since I had international connections she was setting their bail to US $28,000.
I was in the audience, and the judge addressed me directly, for me to find the money to pay for the youths’ release or she would send them back to prison. Nonetheless, the human rights group, Associação Mãos Livres, pleaded with the judge to reduce the bail. She obliged and, as if in a show of magnanimity set it at US $15,400. The rights group and I organised a fundraising campaign to pay the bail. A year later, the judge has not called the youths back, and the case was quietly thrown into the judicial limbo.
What was striking to me was the ability of the judicial system to execute such a robbery of justice. It never addressed the severe torture the youths had suffered, the unlawful arrests of everyone involved or the fact that there was no evidence to deal with. There was the belief that with such a financial punishment in the form of bail, the youths would be discouraged from taking to the streets again.
I investigated the case and I found out that a senior politician had personally coordinated the operation for my arrest. The logic, for the regime, is simple. If no one reports on the abuses, then there are no abuses.
Alexandre Solombe and I lodged a criminal complaint against the police, for our unlawful arrest, destruction of our property and the beatings we endured. The office of the Attorney General has kept silent to date. The complaint was simply ignored. In the Angolan judicial system, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
These few youth protesters are proving to be so resilient and fearless, but they are no match for the creativity of the police and the judiciary. On October 11, members of the national police and state security forces arrested 17 youth who attempted to protest against the president, and tortured them in a public school.
Two of them, Adolfo Campos and Roberto Gamba, who had been arrested for giving me an interview, were among the detainees. Afterwards, the police had the youths imprisoned for hours in the 11 de Novembro national stadium, which had hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 African Nation Football Cup. As the extortion tactics through bail failed, this was an improvement.
As I speak to you, I am awaiting at any time, to face nine separate trials in Angola, for supposedly having offended seven Angolan generals and two diamond companies. Upon describing more than 100 cases of torture and murder committed by personnel employed by them in their private security companies and diamond ventures, I concluded that they are the moral authors of crimes against humanity.
To give you an idea of the charges of defamation against me, my file case contains more than 1,000 pages. More than 170 pages of them are copies of correspondence between the office of the Attorney General and all the Angolan commercial banks on my financial records. The authorities discovered a fortune amounting to little more than US $3,000, for seizure. I saw no evidence in the files on the human rights abuses I have raised, but ample evidence about my trips abroad.
The generals are demanding US $1.2m from me in damages, besides a jail sentence. In Portugal, where they lodged another criminal complaint, they are demanding US $400,000. The Portuguese prosecution service shelved their criminal complaint but a civil case is still ongoing.
For 22 years I have been covering the diamond industry, first, back in 1992, when I began my career as a state media journalist. When I realised that there was a systematic pattern of torture and killings by private security companies in the northeastern diamond region of Angola, I decided to document such cases.
I recently obtained a video that shows private security guards torturing two diamond artisanal miners with a machete. The security guards work for a company that belongs to senior members of the Angolan police.
Between journalism and activism
Often, I have been asked if there isn’t a conflict between being a journalist and a human rights defender or an activist. My answer is simple, and based on my own experiences.
While I was in jail, some prisoners who had been incarcerated without due process – without even a case being brought by the public prosecutor – found ways to tell me their stories. They had a hidden radio in prison and heard all the news on my case. They kept me abreast of the outpouring of solidarity I was receiving at home and abroad. They believed that, with all the national and international pressure, I would not rot in jail and I would be able to tell their stories.
Well, I did not wait to get out of jail to tell their stories. I found ways of passing the information to colleagues. In doing so, I found out that one of the prisoners, who had been accused of murdering my friend and colleague Simão Roberto in 1997, was innocent. He and two friends had ended up in a police station for crashing a car into the wall of a private residence while under the influence of alcohol. The police chief thought they were a good catch! After torturing the drunkards, the police shot dead two of them, and forced the third one to confess to a crime he had no idea of.
I passed his case to other colleagues and lawyers, and the innocent man was later released. I kept myself busy collecting such cases and passing them onto others. Right after I left the Viana prison, the authorities fast-tracked the release of more than 1,000 prisoners, one of whom had been there for 15 years without a trial. Such were the exposés that led to the jail being shut down for a few years for upgrading.
Upon my release, I realised that a colleague, André Mussamo, had been thrown in jail on suspicion of wanting to write an article that would expose the local governor’s scam to claim money for militias that did not exist. His case had not drawn public attention. Although war was ravaging the country, I flew to this province to use my newly acquired international profile to campaign for his release. I found out that the governor had ordered, besides his arrest, the confiscation of his motorbike and the cutting of the phone line to his neighbourhood, and the police and security forces also confiscated the journalist’s canister of cooking gas.
Besides the campaigns done by Angolan journalists, I made a point to international organisations to include in their statements not only the journalist’s freedom but the return of the canister of cooking gas too. Often, government officials and the attendant state security apparatus can be so petty and cruel and yet yearning for an international reputation.
Somehow, I became known as a human rights defender or activist. Then I kept investigating and publishing reports on human rights abuses in the diamond areas. I continued to be called a human rights defender. I am proud of defending the rights of my citizens. Journalists are supposed to defend constitutional rights too.
Members of the regime are not shy about saying in public that the fact that I am alive, and still doing my work, is evidence of democracy in Angola and the magnanimity of our president. Some foreign diplomats in the country also make the same argument in their efforts to defend the regime as not being authoritarian.
Whatever the arguments, I have taken on the leadership on the two most concerning subjects in Angola, corruption and human rights abuses. Through my website, Maka Angola, I have made it my mission to expose, through my investigations, the scourge of corruption, which is robbing the country of billions of dollars a year.
I have just started publishing what will be a series of investigations on how top public officials are grabbing land and leaving thousands of peasants unable to practice subsistence farming.
In responding to the peasant lady whom I refered to earlier, I am a man too, and I wear pants too. No politician, however strong and fearsome, will deter me from doing my job, and taking leadership to speak power to truth.
I could not watch Carlos Cardoso’s back. But I can plead with you here today, for us to campaign relentlessly for our peers who are wrongfully imprisoned, particularly in Ethiopia. They did not want to be heroes, but concerned citizens and dedicated professionals.
To Eskinder Nega, to Bheki Makhubu and many others in prison, I thank you for your courage and determination, which are an inspiration.
I am here for you. I am your brother-in-arms.
This speech has been edited for legal reasons