Free speech boosted in Angola

2013-02-13 19:19
Rafael Marques

Rafael Marques

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Johannesburg - Angola received a boost to its free speech from the Portuguese courts, which refused to allow Angolan generals to stop the publication of a book exposing corruption and human rights abuses in the southern African country's lucrative diamond mines.

Portuguese prosecutors this week threw out a libel suit against a book that alleges Angolan generals own a diamond company and a security firm that carried out killings and the torture of workers toiling in the southern African nation's mines.

The dismissal of the challenge, brought against Angolan writer Rafael Marques and his publisher over his book Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, represents a free-speech victory for a nation where the government has long been accused of corruption and mismanagement of oil and diamond riches.

While the challenge played out in Portugal, Angola's former colonial ruler, Marques said the court case could have bankrupted and effectively silenced him while frightening others investigating government corruption.

"Their belief was being very rich and very powerful, especially within the Portuguese economy where they have made massive investment, they would have create the situation by whereby I would not be able to afford a lawyer to defend myself," the author told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "They thought by putting me in a situation of poverty, I would not have been able to afford the cost of justice."

Mining company Sociedade Mineira do Cuango and security firm Teleservice-Sociedade de de Telecomunicacoes, Seguranca e Servicos filed the complaint against Marques and publisher Tinta-da-China after the book was published.

The book linked the generals to the companies, which Marques allege carried out about 100 killings and tortured hundreds of others with the aid of soldiers and weapons supplied by military armouries.

On Monday, the Lisbon Attorney General's office issued a ruling that said it decided the book falls within the scope of legitimate use of a legal right - freedom of expression and information - which is constitutionally guaranteed.

The prosecutor said since there was no public crime committed in its view, it wouldn't bring charges against Marques and his publisher.

Corruption and mismanagement

Officials with the two companies could not be immediately reached on Wednesday by the Associated Press.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' government is accused of corruption and mismanagement of oil and diamond riches. His party is the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, which won the August election.

Angola was a Cold War battlefield for 27 years, with Cuban soldiers and Soviet money supporting dos Santos' MPLA and South Africa and the United States backing Unita. Half a million people died in the war, more than 4 million - a third of the population - were displaced and much infrastructure was destroyed.

Since the war ended in 2002, Angola has dominated the list of the world's fastest growing economies and is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest oil producer, after Nigeria. Oil-backed credit lines from China - Angola is China's No 1 oil supplier and its second biggest importer is the United States - have fuelled a building boom of houses, hospitals, schools, roads and bridges.

Average life expectancy has gone up from 45 in 2002 to 51 in 2011.

But 87% of urban Angolans live in shanty towns, often with no access to clean water, according to Unicef, and more than a third of Angolans live below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, human rights activists accuse government and military officials of looting their country's oil and diamond wealth.

Read more on:    jose eduardo dos santos  |  angola  |  southern africa

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