NEW YORK—The United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that Angola violated the freedom of expression of a journalist who was imprisoned in 1999 for criticizing the country's president.
Rafael Marques de Morais, an Angolan journalist, was arrested and imprisoned in Luanda, on October 16, 1999, following the publication in the Agora newspaper of remarks by him about Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos. Among other things, Marques said that the president was responsible "for the destruction of the country" and "accountable for the promotion of incompetence, embezzlement and corruption." Marques was detained for forty days without charges, ten of them incommunicado.
He was subsequently tried and convicted of the charge of "abuse of the press" resulting in "injury" to the president. The law under which Marques was prosecuted denied the possibility of a defense based on the truth of the statements at issue. 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 confiscated, and he was prohibited from leaving the country.
INTERIGHTS and the Open Society Justice Initiative together represented Marques before the UN Human Rights Committee, the body of experts tasked with monitoring state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On March 30, 2005, the committee issued its decision, finding that the Angolan government had breached a number of Marques' fundamental rights. The committee held that Marques's conviction and sentence constituted an unlawful interference with his right to freedom of expression:
"Given the paramount importance, in a democratic society, of the right to freedom of expression and of a free and uncensored press or other media, the severity of the sanctions imposed on the author cannot be considered as a proportionate measure to protect public order or the honour and the reputation of the President, a public figure who, as such, is subject to criticism and opposition. In addition, the Committee considers it an aggravating factor that the author's proposed truth defence against the libel charge was ruled out by the courts."
The committee also found violations of several other rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the following:
- Marques' arrest and detention was "neither reasonable nor necessary, but at least in part of a punitive character," were "arbitrary," in violation of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 9(1).
- He was not informed in a timely manner of the reasons for his arrest, in breach of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Art. 9(2).
- His ten-day period of incommunicado detention without access to a lawyer impaired his right to be brought promptly before a judge, in violation of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Art. 9(3).
- Together with his detention without access to a lawyer, the Supreme Court's failure to adjudicate on a habeas corpus claim made on his behalf violated his right to judicial review of the lawfulness of his detention, guaranteed by International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Art. 9(4).
- The travel ban and confiscation of his passport had no basis in law following the expiration of his bail restrictions, and violated his right to freedom of movement, under International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Art. 12(1).
The committee urged the government to provide Marques with "an effective remedy, including compensation for his arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as for the violations of his rights." The committee observed that Angola "is under an obligation to take measures to prevent similar violations in the future." The committee has requested information from the government on the measures taken to give effect to its views within 90 days. Such measures should include changes to Angola's press and defamation laws to bring them into line with international standards.