Luanda, Angola--The journalist who faced trial at the hands of those he implicated in his book about corruption and torture in the Angolan diamond industry received a suspended sentence last week.

A judge hit Rafael Marques de Morais with a six-month sentence suspended for two years, meaning he can be sent to prison for half a year at any time in the next two years.

The sentencing took place May 28, just one week after it was believed he had reached a settlement with the military generals and two mining companies that originally put him on trial for libel and criminal defamation. They agreed to drop the charges against de Morias and let him have continued access to the diamond fields as long as he agreed not to republish his book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, and publicly acknowledge that the generals might not have known about the human rights abuses.

In spite of the agreement, public prosecutors called for the 43-year-old investigative journalist to receive jail time. De Morais told The Guardian that he was lied to by the generals, who wanted to avoid the embarrassment of a trial, and now has the threat of incarceration hanging over his head as he seeks to continue working as a journalist in Angola.

De Morais originally went on trial for his book in March, just days after receiving an award in London for his contributions to free speech as an investigative journalist.

Published in Portugal in 2011, the book detailed corruption in the diamond industry in Angola--which is the current vice chair of the Kimberley Process--as well as torture and killings allegedly carried out by security guards and Angolan soldiers in the diamond-rich Lunda Norte province.   

He faced nine counts of libel but was slapped with an additional 15 counts of criminal defamation on his first day in court.

After two delays in the trial, De Morais reached a settlement on May 21 with the companies and generals that had brought the charges against him.
A number of organizations have spoken out about the journalist’s prosecution, including Amnesty International as well as Tiffany & Co. and Chicago independent Leber Jeweler. Both companies signed a statement calling on the Angolan government to drop its case against the journalist when his trial started.

Tiffany also was one of the signatories on a new letter calling on the government to cease this latest round of prosecution. According to the Index on Censorship, the organization that gave de Morais the award for his contributions to free speech, that letter was set to be delivered to the Angolan embassy in London on Tuesday.  

Amnesty International said the latest development in the de Morais case is politically motivated, designed to silence an activist and send a warning message to those who speak out against the government in Angola.

It is “a clear sign of abuse of the judiciary to intimidate those who dare to speak truth to power in Angola,” the organization said. 

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