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March 22, 2015
A journalist and human rights activist who has been persecuted for several years following publication of his book alleging links between Angola’s military rulers and the “blood diamonds” trade will go on trial on Tuesday charged with defamation.
Rafael Marques de Morais returned from the UK on Friday to face charges brought against him by seven generals and some of their business associates, who he claims are connected to the illicit trade.
The trial is the latest attempt to silence Mr de Morais, whose book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola was published in Portugal in 2011. It 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.
After the author filed charges accusing the generals of crimes against humanity, relating to the murder of 100 villagers and 500 cases of torture, senior military figures counter-sued for £1.1m. The men, including three former joint chiefs of staff of the armed forces, originally filed a criminal defamation lawsuit in Portugal, where judges threw out the claim stating that “the author’s intention is clearly not to offend, but to inform”. Mr de Morais said in London: “Now I’m being prosecuted for having lodged that criminal complaint in Angola against the generals, not for the book.”
Mr de Morais is a long-time critic of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, pictured right (AFP/Getty)
His book’s small initial print run in Portugal sold out almost immediately, leading to suspicions that some of those implicated in the book were buying up copies to prevent the public from reading it. However, the publishers printed thousands more and the book became a bestseller.
“By the time I arrived in Portugal to launch the book all the copies had been sold… Whoever had the idea of buying the first 500 copies has led to it topping the book charts,” he said.
Mr de Morais, 43, said the book was being made freely available to read online or download in Angola, and that he was taking 200 copies with him this weekend to distribute on the first day of his trial. “Whatever the generals decide to do to me this week they will only add more wood to the fire.”
Mr de Morais is a long-time critic of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos and his family. He was jailed for 43 days, 11 in solitary confinement without food or water, in 1999 after he published The Lipstick of the Dictatorship, criticising Angola’s long-standing autocratic leader. Undeterred, Mr de Morais continued with his investigations, culminating in his 2011 book exposing the horrors and corruption of the country’s diamond trade.
He also co-authored an award-winning report in 2013 exposing how the President’s eldest daughter, Isabel dos Santos, became Africa’s richest woman, claiming this to be primarily transfers initiated by her father. Forbes named Ms Dos Santos, 41, as Africa’s only female billionaire – in a country where most people live on less than $2 a day.
Mr de Morais remains upbeat. “Whatever the outcome, the generals and their associates are bound to lose,” he said. “They have all the money, they have all the power. The truth is on my side and the government is not going to get away with it.”