For Rafael Marques de Morais, the last few days have been a strange mix of elation and despair. Elation last week when the charges levelled against him in an Angolan courtroom were dropped; despair when they were somehow reinstated on Monday, with the prosecution defying both logic and the law in the process.
Marques is one of Angola’s few investigative journalists, and over the years has fearlessly uncovered a string of major scandals. His book, Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola, exposed details of more than 100 killings, and many more cases of torture, perpetrated by private security guards working for mining companies in Angola’s diamond fields. It’s his book that got him into trouble (this time, at least; Marques is rarely on the right side of the government).
In it, he names the powerful generals that own the abusive mining companies, and the generals took exception. They first tried to sue him for defamation in Portugal – the case was dismissed – and are now trying their luck in Angola’s rather less rigorous judicial system. On Thursday, the judge will deliver his verdict, with Marques denied a chance to present evidence or defend himself. On the eve of the verdict, I spoke with Marques in a telephone interview. While he retained the strength to chuckle at the sheer Kafka-esque absurdity of the situation, he was understandably nervous, and angry. For all that he’s already been put through, there’s still plenty of fire in his belly.
SIMON ALLISON: Rafael, what exactly is happening? Last week you thought the charges were dropped, and now the prosecution is calling for jail time.
RAFAEL MARQUES: On 20 April, I was called to a meeting to try and reach an agreement so that the trial would not drag on and have all of the witnesses parading in front of the court. The conditions imposed on me by the lawyer of one of the mining companies were so absurd that I walked out of the meeting. Basically this guy…said that he had already spoken to the judge because the judge had been his student. If I apologised, he had already told the judge to give me a symbolic three day sentence which I should not contest…but I would still have to pay the compensation.
It was nuts, so I said the only reason I was at the meeting was out of respect for the generals who were at the meeting. So in that light I would battle the case in court, and I would very respectfully ensure that my statements, in regards to the generals, were as understanding as possible not to cause more grievances.
The following day we showed up on court, on the 21st. We’d spent the whole night preparing documents and witnesses and all sorts of things. The generals were not in the courtroom even though it was the day for them to testify. I knew from the outset that they would not show up in court because they didn’t want to go through the gruelling process of testifying and so forth. So I said ok, and we were waiting to be called for the trial to commence, and the generals’ lawyers approached my lawyer and said we should talk before the proceeding starts. From one in the morning I had been receiving messages from one of the generals, basically to say you’re a patriot, and this case rests in your hands. It’s up to you if you want to bring it to an end or not. We’ve done our part and so forth, it’s not about who wins or loses, it’s in your hands; if you just make some symbolic statement in court basically saying you communicated with the companies but now you’re aware that the companies did not inform the generals so the generals didn’t know what was going on in the diamond fields.
The lawyers repeated that to my lawyer in court and said we will drop all the charges and close the case and we all go home. My lawyer said ok, you know we all have lots of things to do, why drag it on if they’re willing to drop the case? – and said Rafael, just make a short statement and this is very fair.
So I took the stand and said look, I never contacted the generals directly but just the companies, and I have learnt now that the companies and managers never informed them of my diligence; and if that information had gone up to the generals eventually I would have written differently about them in the book, given their responses. And of course as a journalist or writer, if someone gives you an answer you will quote that answer. If someone doesn’t give you an answer you will interpret in light of the cases you have. And that’s what basically I did. And of course I knew clearly that what was going on. So I made that statement and they dropped the charges.
So they said ok, we’re very happy with Rafael’s statements, they’re very sincere and truthful, and then we drop the charges. And I made a voluntary commitments that I would not reprint the book…just as a sign of good faith. And also because they book was printed eight times, and it is open source on the internet and has had 55,000 downloads. That’s just on the publisher’s website, it was posted on other websites as well [context: in South Africa, if a book sells 5,000 copies it’s a best-seller].
So that was basically it. We went home, happy, and said charges dropped; and then they said on Monday we had just have to follow up with the court formalities for the oral submissions, and on Thursday the sentence will be passed, it’s all symbolic. I said fine, a few more days, if you want to go through the formalities no problem.
So we went there on Monday, and to my surprise the public prosecution starts by saying that I apologised in court; that I acknowledged in court that what I had written in the book are all falsehoods. Luckily there have been international observers in court throughout the proceedings, including the American Bar Association and some embassies, otherwise I would have looked like I was making up stories. So the public prosecutor twisted all my words, said things I never said. The content of the book was never discussed throughout the trial, except one question that the generals insisted on the first day of my questioning: if I had seen any generals shooting. And I never said in the book that I had seen any generals shooting.
Why do you think they were so insistent on that detail?
Because they had no case. Because the generals are the owners of the companies, and I accused them of being responsible for those abuses because as the owners of the companies they never did anything to stop them. That’s what I wrote in the book. They had responsibility for what their men were doing.
What happened after the prosecutor said you had apologised?
He asked for a 30-day conviction.
What about the agreement from before, it disappeared?
So were you set up? What game were they playing?
That’s what I said in public – this was a set-up. They wanted to prevent my witnesses from testifying, and to prevent me from submitting more documents in court which proved that all the cases I published in the book concerning the generals’ companies I had submitted to their companies six months before the book was published. And usually journalists don’t send the cases, they send questions. I not only sent questions, but sent the mother of a victim who was hacked to death by one of the guards from the generals companies. So she could explain in person what they did to her son, and how she sought justice. The police refused her by saying this is a general’s company, and everyone refused to listen to her. I had the evidence, the emails printed and everything, that I submitted that in writing.
What’s the next step?
On Thursday, then the judge passes the sentence.
Is there any chance the judge will ignore the prosecution’s recommended sentence?
No, because the judge is doing everything he is told to do.
Is there an appeals process?
There is an appeals process, but the way this justice works, is strange, it’s just odd…[trails off] I think it’s just the hatred some of these people in power have for me, for exposing corruption and their shenanigans, overpowers any common sense they might have about the things they are doing to bring me down.
How do you feel? You’ve been dealing with this case for years, and last week you thought it was finally over.
I’m taking it not so lightly. It’s just too much confusion up here…It’s torture.
To change the subject, slightly. At the same time as your case has been going on, Angola has been dealing with the aftermath of the Mount Sumi massacre. Why hasn’t this received much attention? [On April 16, Angolan security forces allegedly massacred hundreds of members of a religious sect on the slopes of Mount Sumi. Read the Daily Maverick’s analysis here]
RM: The reason why there isn’t much attention is because one, it’s very difficult for foreign journalists to travel to Angola; and secondly the area was immediately militarised to prevent people from accessing the area. The main problem now is not just that the massacre happened. People are being hunted down for belonging to the sect. I just received information yesterday, and I’m passing it on to a friend to publish now, that south of Luanda a police commander refused to take orders from the town mayor to basically go after the sect and kill them. It hasn’t stopped. People are being persecuted…persecuted and killed.
Where does Angola go from here?
They don’t want to go anywhere. They’re in power, they’re tired, they no longer know what they are really doing. They’ve stolen galore and they’re just running the country to the ground. DM
Photo: Rafael Marques de Morais by Simon Allison.