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Angolan Journalist Rafael Marques Wins World Press Freedom Hero Award

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by Eva Rose Tesfaye on May 25, 2018

Angolan journalist, Rafael Marques, will be named World Press Freedom Hero for his dedication to exposing corruption in the Angolan government.

The World Press Freedom Hero is a prestigious award given by International Press Institute (IPI). It honors those who have been committed to promoting freedom in their journalism, especially those who have done this even though it may cause personal harm.

“IPI World Press Freedom Heroes are journalists who have displayed tremendous courage and resilience in fighting for media freedom and the free flow of news – often at great personal risk,” says the description of the award.

Over the years, Marques has been persecuted and harassed for reporting on the corruption within Angola. He began his career working for the state-owned newspaper, Jornal de Angola in 1992, but was quickly fired for not reporting favorably about the Angolan government as was expected of him.

He began writing for several independent news outlets in Angola and in 2008 he founded the awatchdog website, Maka Angola, where he performed investigative reporting of high-up political, business, and military leaders in Angola.

He mainly focused on and the corruption and incompetence of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his allies, which lead to them sabotage the national economy.  In 1999 he was arrested on charges of defamation after describing the president as a dictator in one article, entitled “The Lipstick of Dictatorship” (which is a play on words based on the Portuguese term for police baton). In the article, he criticizes Dos Santos for promoting “incompetence, embezzlement and corruption as political and social values”.

He spent 43 days in pre-trial detention and was convicted and given 6 months in prison in March 2000. He was later given a suspended sentence by the Supreme Court after international pressure, with the condition that he would not write any defamatory articles for the next five years.

He also focused on the management of natural resources in Angola. His most famous work, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola was published in 2011 is banned in Angola. He was also given a suspended jail term for that as well. In the book, he exposes over 100 killings hundreds of torture cases by the security guards in the Luanda region’s diamond fields.

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi commended Marques for pursuing the truth at all costs.

Despite Angola’s systematic repression of independent media, Rafael Marques has managed – at great personal risk – to bravely and persistently shine a light on abuse of power at the highest levels”, she said. “Through his articles, books, and research, Mr. Marques has carried out the type of watchdog journalism that the country’s state-dominated media have been unable to perform, providing an essential service to the Angolan public and the international community.”

She also calls on the new president of Angola to end the harassment against its journalists and allow independent media to “flourish.”

Marques welcomes the award as “wonderful news” according to AfricaNews. He believes this could help his current court case, in which he and colleague, Mariano Brás Lourenço are accused of insulting public authority in an article from 2016. If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison. This cause is making people question the reforms promised by the new president, João Lourenço.

The award will be presented on June 22nd at in Abuje, Nigeria at IPI’s annual World Congress and General Assembly. In addition to this award, IPI will honor Philippines, news website, Rappler with the 2018 Free Media Pioneer Award.

Last year’s winner was another fellow African,Ethiopian journalist and blogger, Eskinder Nega. Like Marques, Nega was arrested for his journalism. He spent nearly 6 years in prison until he was released in February of this year.

Featured Image via Flickr/Jon S

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.
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