The ongoing assault against journalism in Mozambique took a shocking new turn on 23 August when a media house was petrol-bombed, Amnesty International said on Monday, as it released a new briefing documenting attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.
On August 23, an unidentified group of people broke into the offices of the independent weekly newspaper Canal de Moçambique, doused them in petrol and set them alight with a Molotov cocktail, extensively destroying equipment, furniture and files.
The attack came four days after the newspaper published an investigative story alleging unethical procurement by politically connected individuals and senior government officials at the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy.
Canal had also published, on March 11, 2020, a story entitled “The business of war in Cabo Delgado”, alleging the existence of an illegal secret contract between the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior and natural gas companies in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. According to the article, the two ministries provided services to the companies, but the payments for the services were deposited into the personal account of the then Minister of Defence, Atanásio Salvador Ntumuke, rather than that of the Ministry of Defence.
“The attack on the Canal offices constitutes a turning point in the escalating crackdown on human rights in Mozambique. This is a shocking attack on press freedom and the most extreme manifestation yet of the increasing threat to journalists in Mozambique,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“The authorities must undertake a prompt, thorough, impartial, independent and transparent investigation into this attack, and bring those responsible to justice.”
Amnesty International’s new briefing, “Media freedom in ashes: Repression of freedom of expression in Mozambique” documents several recent cases of journalists being arrested for politically motivated reasons, as well as cases where journalists have been harassed and grievously assaulted. Many of the cases in the briefing involve journalists and commentators attacked following publications and commentaries on corruption or misuse of public funds.
Canal de Moçambique’s Executive Director, Fernando Veloso and Editorial Director, Matias Guente were on 18 June 2020 charged with “violation of state secrecy” and “conspiracy against the state” for the 11 March article headlined “The business of war in Cabo Delgado”.
On the same day as the arson attack on Canal, investigative journalist Armando Nenane was arrested for allegedly failing to comply with COVID-19 regulations. His arrest came after he had published a story, on the news website Moz24h.co.mz, about how he deposited money into former Defence Minister’s personal bank account in an attempt to verify the story carried by Canal media on 11 March.
This piece earned Nenane wrath on social media, with some governing party supporters calling for his prosecution for “violation of state secrecy”. Nenane was detained for 25 hours at the 9th Police Station in Maputo upon his arrest on 23 August.
On 25 June 2020, police further arrested and detained Carta de Mocambique journalist Omardine Omar. Omar had been investigating allegations that the police were demanding bribes from members of the public accused of violating the COVID-19 related state of emergency.
Witnesses say police assaulted Omar at the Alto Maé’s 7th Police Station and attempted to coerce him to sign a self-incriminating statement. Omar was released on the public prosecutor’s orders on 28 June. However, on 30 June, the Ka Mpfumo Court in Maputo sentenced him to 15 days in jail, or a fine equivalent to US$ 200 in local currency for “civil disobedience”.
“It is outrageous that Omardine Omar was sentenced in what is clearly a case of vindictive injustice. We cannot say it enough; journalism is not a crime,” Deprose Muchena said.
A pattern of attacks
Journalists, researchers, academics and others who hold critical views about the Mozambican government have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, abduction, and torture in recent years.
On April 7, 2020, Ibraimo Mbaruco, a community radio journalist and newscaster in Cabo Delgado’s Palma district, was forcibly disappeared by the army. On 5 January 2019, Amade Abubacar and Germano Adriano, two other community radio journalists in Cabo Delgado’s Macomia district, were abducted by the police as they interviewed Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
On March 27, 2018, Ericino de Salema, a lawyer and journalist, was abducted by unknown gunmen who severely beat him breaking his arms and legs, after expressing a critical view about the government on television.
On May 23, 2016, Jaime Macuane, a professor of political science and public administration at Eduardo Mondlane University, was abducted and taken to an isolated area outside of Maputo where he was severely beaten and his arms and legs broken, after criticizing the government on television.
On March 2, 2015, Gilles Cistac, a constitutional lawyer and processor at Eduardo Mondlane University, was gunned down in broad daylight in Maputo, after he had publicly aired his views on the Constitution of the Republic of Mozambique.