A judge in the Angolan capital, Luanda, has thrown out the case against Angola’s most well-known journalist, Rafael Marques de Morais, and editor Mariano Bras Lourenço.

The two faced three years in prison for reporting on a former attorney general who “bought” 3 acres of beachfront property free of charge to build a luxury condo. He changed his mind but evicted the peasants from the land anyway, without paying compensation.

Marques describes his website—Maka Angola—as an initiative dedicated to the struggle against corruption and the defense of democracy in Angola, funded and directed by the journalist himself. Maka is a noun in Kimbundu, one of the indigenous languages of Angola, referring to a delicate, complex or serious problem.

“Angola is endowed with immeasurable natural wealth and the last decade has seen impressive economic growth, but most of the population still lives in poverty,” he said. “This is the Maka!”

Reading the almost three-hour long verdict, Judge Josina Ferreira Falcão said the article fulfilled the journalistic duty to inform the public and expose alleged wrongdoing.

“This court believes that we would be doing very bad as a society that wants to progress, if we punished the messengers of bad news,” she said. “This court … therefore decides to send them back to their families at liberty and peace.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the surprise ruling in a country that keeps the media on a tight leash.

Among Marques’ awards is the Percy Qoboza Award for Outstanding Courage, from the National Association of Black Journalists; the Civil Courage Prize, from the Train Foundation for his human rights activities; and the World Press Freedom Award, from the International Press Institute for his investigative reporting.

He is currently a board member of the Goree Institute in Senegal.