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Rafael Marques de Morais, left, and John Githongo talk about their experiences in Vancouver on Sept. 30, 2015.

Rafal Gerszak

One of Africa’s most acclaimed anti-corruption campaigners has been denied a visa to visit Canada – less than three years after he received a major award from the University of British Columbia for his work.

Rafael Marques de Morais, an Angolan activist and journalist who has exposed corruption and human-rights abuses in the oil-rich country for decades, was told this month that his request to visit his son in Canada has been rejected.

Mr. Marques has received many international awards for his work in Angola, including a democracy award last year from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. In 2015, he was the co-winner of the $100,000 Allard Prize for International Integrity from UBC for his “exceptional courage and leadership in combating corruption.”

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The 46-year-old Oxford-educated activist has been widely praised for challenging the authorities in Angola, an authoritarian state where activists are often imprisoned. He has been arrested repeatedly for his research and writing on corruption, and is currently on trial for allegedly insulting an Angolan official for his reports about an illegal land grab. The authorities have ordered the trial to be held behind closed doors, provoking protests from international human-rights groups.

Mr. Marques says he was shocked when the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria – which has jurisdiction over Angolan applications – informed him that he would not be allowed a visitor visa. He had planned a three-week visit to Canada, where his 16-year-old son is attending a private school in Toronto. His wife is a Canadian citizen who has worked for a humanitarian organization in Angola for most of the past 20 years.

In a letter to Mr. Marques, the High Commission said it wasn’t satisfied that he would return to Angola after his visit.

“I was really surprised and puzzled,” Mr. Marques told The Globe and Mail. “I have no interest whatsoever in staying in Canada. I think it’s really unfair and unbelievable. There’s no cause for them to deny me a visit to my son.”

He routinely travels abroad for conferences and speeches, including three previous visits to Canada, but always returns to Angola. He even remained in Angola during the country’s civil war. He said he provided banking records to the Canadian officials to show that he has more than $50,000 in funds, although this did not satisfy the officials that he had sufficient funds for his visit.

Responding to queries from The Globe, a spokeswoman for the federal immigration department, Beatrice Fenelon, said the Canadian officer decided that Mr. Marques was at risk of staying illegally in Canada because he has “weak ties” to Angola and “strong ties” to Canada as a result of his son and wife being there.

In addition, Mr. Marques has “outstanding criminal charges” in Angola, she said.

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Human-rights groups have said that the charges in Angola are a blatant attempt by an autocratic state to intimidate Mr. Marques and disrupt his anti-corruption work.

Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that works for free elections in Africa, said the Canadian decision to reject the visa application is “a disservice to the decades-long selfless sacrifices that Rafael has made.”

He praised Mr. Marques for defying Angola’s authoritarian regime. He has “never stood down, retreated or ran away, despite the persistent threats against him and his family,” Mr. Smith said.

“That the Canadian government refused him entry to visit his family, who he hasn’t seen in years, on the dubious premise that he may not return home, is not only beyond the pale, but also entirely disrespectful and shameful,” he told The Globe.

If an activist as prominent and respected as Mr. Marques is denied entry to Canada, the prospects for lesser-known Africans must be “woefully low,” Mr. Smith said.

Toronto-based immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges said the legal test for getting a Canadian entry visa “is notoriously vague and can be hard for many people to meet.”

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Applicants must satisfy a Canadian official that they will leave Canada at the end of their authorized stay, but this can be impossible to prove, she said. “On top of that, the test is highly discretionary and gives officers a huge scope to either believe or disbelieve that an applicant will leave Canada as required.”

The visa refusal for Mr. Marques is “far from unusual,” she said. “I’ve seen cases of heads of foreign banks getting refused, millionaire business people, etc.”

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