Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and film director Steve McQueen are among signatories from around the world calling on the Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos to drop the prosecution of award-winning investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, Independent.co.uk reports.
Mr de Morais was last week given a six-month suspended sentence, suspended for two years, following a trial in which he faced criminal defamation charges over his book on blood diamonds, which highlighted alleged links between Angola’s military rulers and the illicit trade.
The trial judge ordered Mr de Morais to remove all copies of his book, published in Portugal in 2011, wherever available and also to remove any references from it online.
“How on earth am I supposed to do that?” Mr de Morais told the Independent from his home in Angola. “The book was published four years ago in another country. It is an absurd ruling. If I don’t comply though [the state] can lock me up anytime they like over the next two years.”
The trial was the latest attempt to silence Mr de Morais, whose book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola documents widely reported allegations of murder, forced displacement of communities, and intimidation of those living in the diamond-mining areas of Angola’s Lundas region. Italy will become the latest country to publish the book later this week and an English translation can be found online.
Despite his conviction Mr de Morais said he will not back down and will lodge appeal papers. He said he has been placed under increased surveillance since the ruling and has been left exhausted by the trial, but refuses to be intimidated.
“I will go back to the trenches and become newborn. I will replenish my finances and support my family. I will stay here and fight them all the way to the very end,” he said. “This is a beautiful country and continent and the good people of Africa must not leave so the bad guys, the evil doers, keep power and continue to abuse the people.”
International signatories from the worlds of technology, journalism, publishing, theatre, film and business, including jewellers Tiffany & Co, joined in the call for charges to be dropped.
“Marques’ vital investigations into human rights abuses should not be impeded by the threat of jail, which is set to loom over him for two years under the court’s terms,” said the letter, organised by freedom of expression group Index on Censorship and delivered to the Embassy of Angola on 2 June.
Jodie Ginsberg, Index on Censorship CEO, said: “Rafael’s trial was a sham. He was told charges would be dropped, only for him to be hit with new charges out of the blue, and he was not allowed to present his evidence or call witnesses.
“Rafael is a courageous journalist, working with little support to expose corruption in Angola. This absurd trial and verdict is meant to stop him from speaking out. We want to make sure that does not happen.”