Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
On Appeal Contracts Expression
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Journalist Rafael Marques de Morais published a book about human rights violations committed in Angola’s diamond fields. Several army generals and partners of commercial societies implicated in the book filed a complaint against Marques de Morais for criminal defamation.
In May 2015, the Provincial Court of Luanda sentenced Marques de Morais to six months in prison, which is suspended for two years on the condition that he does not commit a crime.
The Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan investigative journalist and human rights advocate who wrote the book “Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola.” The book describes the human rights abuses and violations committed by security guards and soldiers in the diamond fields of Lunda region – Cuango mineral zone. In his book, Marques de Morais alleged that that at least seven generals who co-own a private security company were criminally responsible for abuses against minors.
Consequently, Marques de Morais filed a criminal complaint against nine Angolan generals and partners of Sociedade Lumanhe, Teleservice – Soc. de Comunicações, Segurança e Serviços, and ITM mining company for crimes against humanity. The Attorney General of Angola quickly dismissed the complaint.
In response, eight of the nine generals brought a defamation action in Portugal, where the book was published. The lawsuit was later dismissed for lack of evidence. Subsequently, the generals filed a second complaint in Angola after the book was published in January 2012. Marques de Morais was then charged under Article 245 of the Penal Code with eight counts of “slanderous denunciation.” He was later charged with additional 15 charges of criminal defamation.
Later, Marques de Morais and the generals reached a settlement agreement upon which Marques de Morais agreed not to republish the book and he would make a statement before the court. In turn, the generals agreed to dismiss the criminal complaint. The journalist complied with the settlement and stated before the court that he did not have the intention of offending the generals and that he wrote his book to simply create an awareness of the suffering of Lundas people.
Despite the settlement agreement, the public prosecutors argued that his statement before the court was an admission of guilt and he should at least receive a suspended prison sentence.
In May 2015, the Provincial Court of Luanda convicted Marques de Morais for malicious prosecution, finding that he had intentionally submitted false evidence against the army generals. While the public prosecutor had sought one month of suspended sentence, the court handed down a six-month suspended prison sentence. The court also ruled that Marques de Morais’s filing of a criminal complaint against the generals amounted to a criminal libel.
The six-month sentence is suspended for two years on the condition that the journalist would not engage in any behavior deemed criminal by the government. Marques de Morais has appealed the sentencing order.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision contracts expression as it imposes criminal sanctions against Marques de Morais for documenting human rights violations and abuses in Angola. The decision has the effect of discouraging people from expressing their views on matters of public interest.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The precedential effect of this decision by the Angolan court is yet to be determined. Marques de Morais has since appealed this ruling against him.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.