1 May 2014

Mozambique: Frelimo Flusters Freedom of the Press in Quelimane

During the week of the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3, Frelimo made an act of clear violation of journalists' rights.

Last Saturday, April 26th, the current ruling party ordered police officers in Zambezia province, who are normally assigned to a subunit of forces meant to protect and escort high-ranking officials such as the provincial governor, to confiscate the reporting equipment of @Verdade collaborator Marcelino Pedro Mueia. At the time, Mueia was covering a public Frelimo party meeting.

According to Mueia, several Frelimo leaders realized his presence at the meeting and, although he was in the company of other public sector professionals from, in particular, Rádio Moçambique (RM), Televisão de Mo çambique (TVM) and Jornal Notícias, he was subsequently asked to leave the premises, under the claim that meeting had to be conducted behind closed doors.

Without showing any resistance, Mueia left the grounds of the Teacher Training Institute of Quelimane (IFP) where the meeting was taking place.

On his way to the newsroom, 500 metres from where he had the "comrade" encounter, the @Verdade reporter stopped by six plain-clothes policemen and an unidentified individual who had been dropped off in a Toyota Corolla.

"They asked me to return to the IFP, and I couldn't resist. I just asked whether I had committed any offense and the agents said 'no'.

Then they asked whether I had credentials to cover the Frelimo meeting," he says, adding that "I presented my reporter credentials, but they remained indifferent because they wanted Frelimo accreditation and they took my camera and a notepad from me."

According to subparagraph d) of paragraph 1 of article 27 of Press Law, while officially covering an event a journalist has the right "to refuse, in the event of illegal intervention, the surrender or display of their work equipment or recorded material".

However, due to police force, Mueia did was not able to refuse to hand the items over. The @Verdade reporter tried, without success, to recover his items from the local senior Frelimo party cadres.

Mueia reported the case to the National Union of Journalists at the local level, but by close of the day on Friday the attempts for justice had not been reached.

Reacting to the brash confiscation, the Rapid Response Commission (CRR), an independent and autonomous mechanism of response to cases rights violation of Mozambican journalists, condemned the act and demanded the return of the sequestered material and called for accountability of those concerned in the light of national and international legislation.

In addition, CRR called on party leaders to "be guided by a commitment of openness and to respect the law, aiming towards the strengthening of the democratic State that which all citizens aspire."

Violation of press freedom is frequent in Mozambique. Last year (2013), the country fell in the ranking countries with free press, from 66th to 73rd place, according to the report produced by the French organization Reporters Without Borders. In 2012, several secret attempts to restrict the freedom of the press were reported.

These actions have manifestly taken place by political leaders or through the initiative of some media editors, especially those linked to government agencies, who use their positions to utilize the press as a "propaganda machine" of the government.

"Intolerant, repressive societies are using anti-State accusations and 'terrorist' labels to intimidate, arrest and imprison journalists," the Executive Director of the Committee of Protection of Journalists (CPJ) Joel Simon said on Tuesday, April 29th.

"On World Press Freedom Day, we should unite as global citizens to share vital stories of these brave individuals, while we ask oppressive governments to release all journalists from jail," he added.

Simon makes reference to three journalists convicted of anti-government charges, the most common accusation used to imprison reporters, who are among 10 emblematic cases highlighted in CPJ's new campaign launched this week.

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