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Journalist trial puts Angola's reputation in the dock
May 14, 2015 / 9:07 AM / 2 years ago

Journalist trial puts Angola's reputation in the dock

LUANDA (Reuters) - An Angolan journalist who accused generals of human rights abuses in the illicit diamond trade faces libel charges in court on Thursday in a case that is putting the spotlight on a major African oil-producer keen to improve its reputation abroad.

Rafael Marques de Morais’ 2012 book “Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola” detailed more than 100 alleged killings and torture of civilians and workers at diamond mines owned by senior Angolan army officers.

The generals denied the allegations and brought defamation charges against Marques de Morais in Portugal, where the book was published, but the case was dismissed because of a lack of evidence. They are now accusing him of libel in Angola.

“This is a politically charged case that has very little to do with the law,” Marques de Morais told Reuters this week.

“There is only one outcome that would serve justice and that is to send me home in peace,” added Marques de Morais, who has won international awards for his human rights activism.

The court and prosecution lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

Marques de Morais has been an outspoken critic of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled Africa’s second largest oil exporter for 36 years, leading it out of nearly three decades of civil war in 2002.

Jailing Marques de Morais would draw criticism from global rights groups who have accused dos Santos of limiting freedom of speech and keeping a tight grip on the media.

“I‘m not afraid of prison,” Marques de Morais said. “If they think it will break me they are wrong. Quite the opposite. It will make me stronger.”

REBUILDING REPUTATION

Angola has been rebuilding since the end of the war, often via huge oil-for-infrastructure deals with China. It is now looking to increase its sway on the world stage, gaining a temporary seat on the U.N. security council last year.

The resumption of Marques de Morais’ trial comes a month after the police and military were accused by opposition parties of killing hundreds of members of a Christian sect in the Huambo central highlands.

Authorities say only 13 sect members were killed and only after they had killed 9 police officers.

The violence drew rare attention to Angola’s well-funded security forces. The OPEC-member spent $6.5 billion in 2013, the biggest slice of its budget and more than any other sub-Saharan country.

Most of Angola’s 21 million people live on under $2 a day.

“A trial of this nature brings attention to the aspects of misgovernance that the Dos Santos administration doesn’t want the world to see,” said Crisis Group analyst Paula Roque.

Additional reporting by Herculano Coroado; Editing by Ed Cropley and Ralph Boulton

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