20 March 2018

Angola: My Trial - Rafael Marques de Morais

Photo: Gado/CPJ
Attempts by the government to muzzle the press through repressive laws.
analysis

My trial has begun. I am standing on the dock accused of two crimes for nearly four hours straight. It is my punishment for not exercising. Now I feel the pain in my back.

Under the Law on Crimes against State Security, I am accused of an outrage against a sovereign body, the former President José Eduardo dos Santos. The second crime is of insult against a public office holder, the former Attorney General João Maria Moreira de Sousa. Both carry a maximum sentence of four years.

The courtroom is packed. Judge Josina Mussua Ferreira Falcão notes how disrespectful the former attorney general and his counsel have been. For the second time, they submitted a last minute request to postpone the trial sine die (without a set date), and this time with an unreasonable justification. The judge decides to go ahead with the trial without the plaintiff or his counsel.

The public prosecution starts by requesting that the trial's proceedings be held in camera (without audience). Judge Josina Mussua Ferreira Falcão decides that there are no secrets in the case, and orders the audience to stay.

She toughens up and delivers her warnings before the proceedings begin. She starts with the journalists. They are free to take images and record the opening statements, except her image. "Do not dare", she stresses. Second, the audience must be quiet, very quiet otherwise they will be thrown out of the court. To the defense lawyers, she wants them to stick to the facts. No politics. Then it is my turn. She heard my interview saying this third trial of mine will be another kangaroo court, a circus. She wants to know from me her role and mine in the circus. I give her mine, the animal always forced to jump through rings of fire. She smiles and wants to know whether I am a lion or a monkey. She demands respect for the court, the justice system and herself. I point out the injustices of the system she represents. Judge Falcão does not want to be mixed up.

The judge is exhaustively clear. She only wants to hear about the three acres plot of land. At some point I make the case of being on trial for the very serious crime against state security, against my country, and what does a plot of land have to do with it?

Well, it should have been all about the three acres of beachfront land, more than 350 kilometers south of the capital Luanda, in the fishing town of Porto Amboim.

The professional habit of sniffing out corruption led me to investigate how the then-Attorney General João Maria Moreira de Sousa had obtained an official title deed for the three acres in his private capacity as a real estate developer.

A careful reading of the administrative procedures revealed gross irregularities that indicated the local administration had favored the attorney general. For instance, on May 12, 2011, the provincial governor of Kwanza-Sul, José Maria do Prado, issued an edict for people to lay claims on the land or any grievances regarding it within 30 days. However, 13 days later, the same governor and the attorney general both signed the title deed for the land which could still be disputed.

Nevertheless, the farmers who previously occupied the land were evicted without compensation.

Now the plaintiff argues in the case that he lost the title deed because he did not pay the dues, and that he did not want to compensate the peasants. Another line of his argument is that he wanted to build a family condo for leisure.

How did he receive the title deed without paying the dues? How could the local authorities destroy the subsistence farming of several peasants for the leisure of the attorney general and his family? How could three acres be granted for leisure? These are the questions I am looking forward to having answered in court.

But in my writing, published on November 3, 2016, I focused on the fact that the attorney general, according the constitution and relevant laws, is bound by exclusive duty. He could not engage in private business dealings, except academia, and relevant research. Building a condominium in a three acre plot was an enterprise that infringed on the said laws. The whole process was tantamount to corruption.

Dealing with the powerful requires extra care. On October 10, 2016, 23 days before I published the story, I submitted 13 questions to the office of General João Maria de Sousa regarding the three acres. I had a copy of the questionnaire officially stamped by his office as evidence that I had sought his answers. Of course, there was no response.

Then, I added context to the story. I had written about General João Maria de Sousa's private business ventures. For years he simultaneously wore two hats both as Attorney General and managing director of two private companies, Imexco and Prestcom. That was unconstitutional because such businesses in which he was a significant shareholder had dealings with the state. In 2009, I went as far as writing to the president about such a glaring violation of the laws. Mr. José Eduardo dos Santos ignored my letter, but I kept a copy of it signed by his office.

Based on this evidence, I wrote that the attorney general continued to abuse his office because he enjoyed the protection of the president. "The loyalty and support of the President's appointees is secured by allowing them swill at the same trough", I stated.

This reference of Mr. Dos Santos served to indict me for the crime against state security.

On December 27, 2016, after I had enjoyed a Merry Christmas, the Criminal Investigation Service called me in for interrogation. I was charged with defamation and insult to the attorney general. I submitted the documentary evidence that backed up my writing.

That is when the creative attorney general's staff came up with new charges by using the Law on Crimes against the State Security to circumvent the evidence. There was no longer any mention of the Media Law in the accusation against me.

To keep me company, General João Maria also prosecuted the director of the fortnight weekly newspaper "O Crime", Mariano Brás, who printed my exposé. Other local outlets also reproduced and disseminated the article, as several always do with my texts.

Mariano Brás' defense is solely based on reiterating that he only reprinted the article, and does not understand why he is being dragged to court. I take full responsibility for my writings, and made it clear as well that I have no authority over any journalist or outlet that disseminates my texts. Then, the judge and the prosecution pick on the story's headline, which Mariano had changed from the original "involved in corruption" to "accused of corruption", and it turns into an ugly test of semantics and knowledge of the Portuguese language. Then he is informed that he is being prosecuted precisely for the changed headline. Whatever.

However, the political situation in the country registered some changes after the August 2017 elections, in which General João Lourenço was ushered in as the successor to Mr. Dos Santos' 38 years grip on power. The new leader's motto has been the fight against corruption. Well, I have been at the forefront of exposing it and have been permanently under fire by the power holders.

Last December, President Lourenço relieved General João Maria de Sousa of his duty. Now he is having trouble showing up in court to face the facts.

The trial continues on April 16. Now I want to see General João Maria Moreira de Sousa in court. It will be a great day!

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