Two Angolan journalists were acquitted by a judge on Friday over an article of accusing a former attorney general of corruption, in a verdict welcomed by press freedom activists.
Investigative journalist Rafael Marques and editor Mariano Lourenco faced charges of insulting a public authority over the 2016 piece that alleged that Joao Maria de Sousa had been involved in an illegal real estate purchase.
Marques and Lorenco risked a three-year prison term if convicted.
“This court ruled out of order the prosecutor’s request to convict the defendants… and therefore decides to send them back to their families at liberty and peace,” said judge Josina Falcao.
The judge acknowledged that the suspect land sales were “tainted with irregularities” and that the article fulfilled the journalists’ duty to inform the public and expose alleged wrongdoing.
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“Congratulations. While the whole affair should never have taken place, (we) welcome this outcome,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
“Let this be the beginning of an era where journalists can work freely in Angola,” said Human Right Watch researcher Zenaida Machado.
Angolan authorities routinely repress coverage of cases of corruption involving government officials while the local media face harsh restrictions, according to Human Rights Watch.
Angola has been led since last year by President Joao Lourenco who succeeded Jose Eduardo dos Santos after he had ruled for almost four decades.
Lourenco has sought to distinguish himself from his predecessor and launched a campaign against corruption which has snared several officials from the last government.
The Oxford-educated Marques, who runs the news website Maka Angola, is no stranger to Angola’s courts, having been arrested and detained several times.
In 2015, he was convicted of defaming military generals in a book and was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence.