Amnesty International on Monday released a new briefing documenting attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression in Mozambique citing shocking new turn when a media house was petrol-bombed.
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.
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, 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.”
Canal de Moçambique’s Executive Director, Fernando Veloso and Editorial Director, Matias Guente were on June 18 charged with “violation of state secrecy” and “conspiracy against the state” for the March 11 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 March 11.
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 August 23.
On June 25, 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.
On June 30, 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.
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. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)