Activists and journalists subjected to threats, offices independent weekly set on fire

People queue to cast their votes during the presidential, legislative and provincial elections in Maputo, Mozambique, October, 15, 2019. REUTERS/Grant Lee Neuenburg

Association

On 7th October 2019, Anastácio Matavel, civil society activist and founder and director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum, was shot and killed in Xai-Xai, Gaza Province, after attending a training session on election monitoring. On 18th June 2020, six police officers belonging to the Rapid Intervention Unit of the Police were sentenced to prison terms of between three and 24 years for Matavel’s killing.

In Chokwé, Gaza Province, 18 young members of the Partido Nova Democracia (New Democracy Party) were detained on accusations of having had falsified their credentials to monitor the elections. On 27 November 2019, the 18 were released on bail by a court in Chokwé, with bail set at a total 720,000 meticais (approx. US$12,000 at the time).

On 21st January 2019, the offices of the CSO Centro de Integridade Pública (Center of Public Integrity, CIP) in Maputo were surrounded by police officers after CIP started to distribute campaign t-shirts to citizens with the slogan ‘Eu Não Pago Dívidas Ocultas’ (I do not pay hidden debts). CIP reported that people were approached by uniformed and plainclothes agents and asked to remove their t-shirts, and a number were confiscated. 

A few months later, in May 2019, Alice Tomás, a Member of Parliament for the ruling FRELIMO party, threatened CIP researcher and anti-corruption activist Fátima Mimbire by saying in a Facebook post 'that one [Mimbire] needs to be raped by ten strong men, full of energy. Then they can let her go. Because that mouth only issues words that are poisonous to the Mozambican people'.

In a recent development, Adriano Nuvunga, activist and director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), received a death threat in early October 2020 regarding a bomb at his home. There was no bomb; however, civil society has called for the state to investigate the threats and take action to ensure that activists are protected.  

Expression

Journalists reported being subjected to intimidation before the October 2019 elections, including through text messages. The Fórum Nacional de Rádios Comunitárias (National Forum of Community Radios, FORCOM), for example, said that journalist and FORCOM communication and advocacy officer Naldo Chivite received a text message threat that read: “Chivite, you must be careful what you say on Tuesday [polling day]. You talked a lot about the election in Nampula and we accepted it. Be careful." According to media freedom institute Instituto de Comunicação Social da África Austral – Moçambique (MISA Mozambique), Aparício José de Nascimento, editor of the weekly Malacha, was threatened with kidnapping after the newspaper published on Facebook the results of all voting stations in Moatize, Tete Province, in the October 2018 municipal elections. The threats led him to go into hiding.

In a positive development, in May 2020, The Council of Ministers revoked Executive Decree 40/2018. As reported previously on the Monitor, Decree 40/2018 was approved on 23rd July 2018, setting exorbitant fees for the registration, licensing and renewal of licenses for media outlets while also substantially increasing the fees for the accreditation of local and foreign journalists. On 14th August 2018, several civil society organisations petitioned Mozambique's Ombusdman to revoke the Decree.

Situation severe in Cabo Delgado

In the past few years, the authorities have curtailed the freedoms of expression and information in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where suspected Islamist insurgents have perpetrated violent armed attacks on civilians since 2017.

  • Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco, a journalist for Community Radio of Palma, in Cabo Delgado Province, disappeared on 7th April 2020. According to MISA Mozambique, Mbaruco went to work that day until 6pm, reportedly sent a short text message to a colleague saying he was “surrounded by military” and has been uncontactable since. At the time of writing, Mbaruco’s whereabouts were still unknown.
  • On 5th January 2019, Amade Abubacar, a journalist for Nacedje Community Radio, was arrested in Macomia while he was photographing people fleeing the region due to the violent attacks and taken to military barracks where he was held incommunicado for 11 days and subjected to ill-treatment. 
  • On 18th February 2019, journalist Germano Daniel Adriano of Rádio e Televisão de Macomia, was detained. Initially accused of ‘crimes of violating state secrets through digital means’ and ‘public incitement to a crime using digital means’, he and Abubacar were formally charged on 16th April 2019 with ‘public incitement of a crime through electronic media’, ‘incitement’ and ‘injury against public officials’. Both Abubacar and Adriano were provisionally released with conditions on 23th April 2019 pending their trial.
  • On 17th December 2018, journalist Estacio Valoi and two others were on their way from Mocimboa to Palma when they were stopped by military officers, questioned, and held incommunicado for two days. Their phones, laptops, and cameras were confiscated.

On 13th September 2020, Luciano da Conceição, correspondent for Deutsche Welle Africa, was abducted by unidentified men in front of his house in the city of Maxixe, in Inhambane Province, and taken to a beach where he was tied up, beaten and left, with the words “you’ll see.” Da Conceição’s belongings – tape recorder, mobile phones and identity documents – were taken. The same day, TV Sucesso journalist Leonardo Gimo was physically attacked in Nampula City by three unidentified men who took his camera.

Attacks on media outlets

Recent attacks against independent media outlets have raised concerns. Unknown perpetrators broke into and used petrol bombs to set fire to the offices of the independent weekly Canal de Moçambique in Maputo on 23rd August 2020, destroying equipment, documents and furniture. A few months earlier, on 1st February 2020, unidentified people broke into the facilities of media group Media Mais TV in Maputo, and stole the technical equipment necessary for broadcasting. The media group considers the robbery as an ‘act of sabotage’.

Peaceful Assembly

In January 2020, the Municipal Council of Lichinga arbitrarily banned a planned protest by Fórum das Organizações Feministas do Niassa (Forum of Feminist Organisations of Niassa). The protest aimed to denounce public insecurity, especially with regards to sexual violence and femicide.

Police used excessive force and dispersed a protest on 4th February 2019 over a court decision to bar Manuel de Araújo from standing for a second term as mayor of the city of Quelimane. Nhama Matabicho, a journalist for Diário da Zambézia, was assaulted by police officers and his equipment was confiscated. Fifteen protesters were reportedly arrested.

On 31st August 2019, police used tear gas to disperse a group of protesters who were demonstrating over the death of four women in the maternity ward of the Linchinga hospital. Police detained 20 people who were released a few hours later.