Political commentator kidnapped in broad daylight - creating climate of fear for media

Peace negotiations between the FRELIMO-led government and RENAMO 

As reported previously on the Monitor, a ceasefire between the FRELIMO-led government and opposition group RENAMO was first announced in December 2016, after the country had experienced renewed political and military conflict between FRELIMO and RENAMO between 2013 and 2016. A political dialogue between the two has been ongoing since the ceasefire, and on 7th February 2018, President Filipe Nyusi announced a breakthrough in the negotiations. Nyusi requested constitutional changes to decentralise power to the parliament, thus meeting one of the demands of RENAMO. Discussions on disarmament and the integration of RENAMO rebels in the army were underway, but uncertainty over the peace process came to a head again when RENAMO's leader Afonso Dhlakama passed away unexpectedly on 3rd May. Municipal elections will take place in October 2018 and general elections are planned for 2019.  

Human Rights Watch: No accountability for human rights abuses by government security forces and RENAMO

In February 2018, Human Rights Watch published its report entitled "The Next One to Die: State Security Force and Renamo Abuses in Mozambique", which documents incidents of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, summary and political killings and destruction of private property, among other abuses, by both state security forces and RENAMO rebels between November 2015 to December 2016 in the provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia. To date, no one has been held accountable for those abuses and violations, nor has there been a proper investigation into the incidents. Iain Levine, deputy executive director at Human Rights Watch, stated that: 

"Impunity for grave abuses, long prevalent in Mozambique, encourages future abuse. (..) Justice for both government and Renamo forces is crucial for the ceasefire to become an enduring peace”.

Expression

Public outcry over kidnapping and beating of political commentator and activist Ericino de Salema 

On 17th March, unidentified armed men abducted Ericino de Salema, a political commentator for STV’s Pontos da Vista, human rights lawyer and activist, as he left the offices of the Union of Journalists in Maputo. De Salema was found severely beaten and unconscious in the Mutanhane area in the outskirts of Maputo several hours later. Both his legs and his left arm were broken as a result of the attack. He had reportedly received threatening calls the day before. De Salema has been critical towards the government. The Sunday before the attack, for example, he had criticised the restructuring of hidden debts and called for the resignation of the Finance Minister during the Pontos da Vista programme. 

The abduction and physical assault of de Salema was widely condemned by national and international civil society and media groups. The widespread impunity and the slow progress on investigations into such attacks has increased the level of fear among journalists and activists. 

On 3rd April, NGOs submitted a petition to the president of the National Assembly, Verónica Macamo, requesting that action be taken to address the attacks on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, and calling for an end to the intimidation of the population and of crackdowns on freedom of expression. The groups also lamented the impunity of such crimes, noting that none of the cases of kidnappings or murders over the free expression of opinion had resulted in perpetrators being held to account. Zélia Menete, executive director of Fundação para o Desenvolvimento da Comunidade (FDC) and spokesperson of the petition, stated that

"As representatives of the people, we felt that this was a point of entry to reach all these institutions, to say it's enough, enough intimidation and aggression that in some cases resulted in death".

In addition, on 6th April dozens of people protested the attacks against freedom of expression and dissident voices in Mozambique as well as the climate of impunity. Bruno Zita of the Ordem dos Advogados said about the protests:

"We want a Mozambique where the force of the argument prevails and not the argument of force".

On 16th April, Comité de Emergência para a Protecção das Liberdades (Emergency Committee for the Protection of Civil Liberties) called on the Attorney-General of the Republic to take action to protect freedom of speech and the press. 

Freedom of expression violations

On 19th April, two managers of the complex Super Marés in Maputo assaulted journalist Hélder Mathwassa while he was covering an inspection team's visit from Agência Nacional de Controlo de Qualidade Ambiental (National Environmental Quality Control Agency) at a commercial part of the complex. Mathawassa, a video/ image reporter for Stv, was beaten and knocked to the ground, while his camera was damaged. 

Instituto de Comunicação Social da África Austral em Moçambique (Media Institute of Southern Africa - Mozambique) raised concerns in December 2017 over a significant increase in violations of freedom of expression in Mozambique, in particular in the province of Nampula where a political crisis unfolded after the killing of mayor Mahamudo Amurane (see under Association). In the span of two months, the media freedom organisation received three complaints in relation to violations against journalists. On 1st December 2017, police officers confiscated equipment (a tape recorder and two mobile phones) from Inácio Mutipo - a journalist for the community radio station of Nacala - while he was covering the killing of a police officer by a police colleague in Nacala-A-Velha. A day later, an unidentified perpetrator issued death threats against journalist and editorial director of the electronic weekly paper Ikweli in Nampula city - Aunício da Silva - accusing da Silva of publishing articles damaging the mayoral by-election candidate for the opposition Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM). 

Earlier, in July 2017, MISA - Mozambique warned of attempts to "silence the press and civil society organisations" after it received five complaints of threats and intimidation of journalists and civil society organisations over the course of two months, including two attempts by local authorities to intimidate community radio and television stations. On 12th July, the Permanent Secretary of the Chinde district government, in the province of Zambezia, banned the Chinde Community Radio from broadcasting a news bulletin. A journalist from the community radio reported on a meeting of the opposition RENAMO, and was later allegedly called in by the Permanent Secretary who ordered the journalist not to cover the meeting. On 20th July, police officers interrogated the editor of the local newspaper Malacha - Aparicio do Nascimento - in the province of Tete following the publication of an article claiming that a police officer shot a local youth.

According to Conselho Superior de Comunicação Social de Moçambique, on 4th July 2017 security agents of the governor of the province of Maputo demanded that photographs taken by two journalists from Magazine Independente be erased after they took pictures of the outside facade of the provincial government building. When the two journalists refused to erase the pictures, they were allegedly forced inside the building where security agents confiscated their mobile phones and erased the pictures, including personal ones.

Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) annual report on media freedom

In its annual report "So this is Democracy? State of Media Freedom in Southern Africa 2017" published on World Press Freedom Day - 3rd May - MISA stated that journalists in the country continue to work in a hostile environment akin to "walking in a minefield at night":

"If the environment was slightly better for critics and opposition politicians, the same could not be said of the press. Contrary to the previous year, more than 20 cases of press freedom violations were reported in 2017".

In the 2018 World Press Index, Mozambique dropped six places to number 99 out of a total of 179 countries. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 19th January, violent riots broke out in Zongoene administrative post, in the province of Gaza, where a crowd apprehended three suspected thieves and lynched two of them. The angry crowd marched further to the police station, in the hopes of catching the third suspected thief who was rescued by police officers. The crowd then vandalised the police station. A total of five houses and two police vehicles were set on fire and other infrastructure was damaged, according to reports. 

On 19th October 2017, a protest against the alleged presence of 'vampires' in the district of Gilé, in the province of Zambézia, turned into violent clashes with police officers, costing the lives of two people. Additionally, infrastructure was vandalised when a house was set on fire. The protesters accused the local authorities of protecting so-called "chupa-sangues" - a belief in the existence of individuals that draw blood from people during the night. The clashes followed shortly after two other violent incidents of protests against local authorities and/or police - one in Memba in the province of Nampula and one in Mandimba in the province of Niassa on 2nd October during which four civilians were killed by stray bullets. Inácio Dina, a police spokesperson, warned during a press conference that: 

"These are acts of savagery in which the population attacks the authorities with firearms, machetes and stones for absurd motives and superstitions. (...) We will vigorously repress these acts with violence and persecute the perpetrators of misinformation".

On 5th October 2017, hundreds of people descended on the streets of the city of Nampula to demand justice in the assassination case of Nampula Mayor Mahamudo Amurane (see under Association). Police responded to the protesters using rubber bullets and tear gas, which resulted in some injuries according to reports. Some journalists, such as Adina Sualehle (correspondent for Voz da América - VOA) and Luís Rodrigues from the weekly Jornal Makholo were injured while covering the protest. The police later announced a ban on 'illegal protests' following the death of Amurane, clarifying that norms need to be adhered to - namely that police needed to be notified of any protest action. Further gatherings or protests were prevented due to heavy police presence on the streets of Nampula. 

Association

On 4th October 2017, unidentified perpetrators shot and killed the mayor of Nampula, Mahamudo Amurane. Ammurane was elected as the president of the Municipal Council in 2013 with Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM - Democratic Movement of Mozambique) and  was known for fighting corruption in the city's administration. He indicated earlier his intention to run again for mayor in 2018, with his own political project, after having multiple disagreements with MDM. Alice Mabota, president of the Liga Moçambicana dos Direitos Humanos (Mozambican League of Human Rights) commented that such incidents, as in the murder of the mayor, take place because "the perpetrators are not punished". 

In August 2017, a civil society group coordinated by Centro de Estudo e Comunicação Sekelekani reportedly prepared legal actions against ten institutions, the majority being public institutions, for not responding to an information request, thereby violating the 2014 law on the right to access information. Lawyer and journalist Tomás Vieira Mário said in regards to lack of access to information that:

"Our analysis is that the institutions are not prepared for a democratic state as is the Mozambican, they are not prepared to answer the citizens' questions".

According to MISA Mozambique, the website of Forum de Monitoria do Orcamento (FMO - Budget Monitoring Forum) experienced a cyber-attack in late July 2017, while one of the FMO members was a victim of an attempted burglary at his home during which one of the security guards was stabbed. These events occurred after FMO filed a petition in early July at the Constitutional Court to declare the inclusion of the 'hidden debts" in the 2014 General State Accounts unconstitutional. The 'hidden' or 'illegal' debt scandal is a subject that has outraged civil society and citizens since the scandal came out, with the IMF and key foreign donors suspending aid in 2016. An independent audit revealed that at least 36 percent of secret loans of over two billion USD from European banks cannot be accounted for. Four CSOs - Fundação MASC, Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos (IESE),  Centro de Integridade Pública (CIP) and Observatório do Meio Rural (OMR) - asked foreign cooperation partners in March 2018 to gradually resume financial aid, especially to social sectors such as education, health, water and sanitation - but outside the government budget as the conditions that allowed the debt scandal to take place are still in place.   

On 14th June 2017, civil society, religious and social organisations launched a platform for the observation of the upcoming elections in Mozambique, with the aim of guaranteeing transparency in the electoral process. The platform will also deploy observation teams all over the country during the whole electoral process - from the census to the voting.