NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative and INTERIGHTS today called on Angola to comply with its international human rights obligations, following the expiry of a United Nations-imposed deadline on the southern African country to act to protect freedom of expression.
The open letter to Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos followed a March 2005 decision of the UN Human Rights Committee that Angola had violated journalist Rafael Marques de Morais' freedom of expression, by jailing him in 1999 for writing articles critical of dos Santos. The committee gave the Angolan authorities 90 days to compensate Marques and take steps to prevent similar violations in future. No such steps have been taken to date.
Marques was arrested and imprisoned in Luanda, Angola's capital, on October 16, 1999, after he published an editorial in the Agora accusing dos Santos of corruption and incompetence. Marques was detained for 40 days without charges, and then tried and convicted for causing "injury" to the president.
In their letter, INTERIGHTS and the Justice Initiative, who jointly represented Marques before the UN committee, requested that Angola comply with the committee's decision, quash Marques' criminal conviction, and undertake systemic reforms to guarantee the freedom of expression and personal liberties of all Angolans.
- Article 46 of the Press Law, which grants absolute defamation protection to the President of the Republic, subject to no defense of truth, must be repealed. Other overbroad and draconian provisions of the Press Law should also be repealed or thoroughly revised.
- Criminal defamation laws, providing for prison terms of up to two years, should be replaced with civil and other noncriminal remedies for the legitimate protection of reputation. Truth and good faith publication should be complete defenses in a defamation case.
- Criminal laws should grant detainees basic due process rights, including the right to be informed of their rights, be brought promptly before a judge, and file habeas corpus petitions.
- The authorities should stop use of incommunicado detention and train law enforcement personnel on the rights of detainees. Defense counsel and human rights groups should be allowed to visit detention facilities and monitor conditions of detention.
Marques was sentenced to a six-month prison term, which was affirmed but suspended on appeal, and ordered to pay damages to the President. For nearly a year after his conviction, Marques' passport was withheld, and he was prevented from leaving the country. The Human Rights Committee ruled that Angola had violated Marques' rights to personal liberty, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.
Commenting on the ruling, Marques said, "Press freedom in Angola is still vulnerable today to arbitrary attack from the executive and the chilling climate of repression that results. The steps Angola must take to prevent future transgressions are clear: decriminalize defamation, establish truth as a complete defense in defamation cases, repeal special protections for the president and chief executive, and ensure due process for defendants throughout the judicial system."