Maputo — For the first time ever, Mozambican judges went on strike on Thursday.
The Mozambican Association of Judges (AMJ) did not call the action a strike, but a “day of reflection” - mainly about the question of judges' security, or lack of it, following the murder a week ago of judge Dinis Silica, of the criminal investigation section of the Maputo City Court.
The AMJ urged judges to cancel all trials and other procedures set for Thursday and reschedule them for other dates. The judges' protest is clearly aimed at bringing pressure on the government to improve their security, and also repudiates the open hostility with which the police have recently viewed the judiciary.
“We have been witnessing, fairly frequently, a series of attitudes and behaviour totally opposed to the principles of the democratic rule of law”, declared a statement from the AMJ, “on the part of some people who, because of the positions of high responsibility they hold in the structures of power, have the obligation, not only to obey the law and justice, but to see to it that they are entirely and effectively applied”.
“To these situations are added others, still more serious, which permanently call into question the security, physical integrity and very lives of judges, leaving them at the mercy of agents of organised crime”, added the statement.
Silica had been investigating the wave of kidnappings that has hit major Mozambican cities since late 2011, and it is believed that this may have been the motive for his assassination.
He was murdered when he stopped his car at a set of traffic lights in central Maputo.
Another vehicle drew up beside him and two men thrust AK-47 assault rifles out of the windows and sprayed Silica's car with bullets. It was estimated that 30 bullets hit him.
Fellow judges were infuriated that the police seemed to concentrate more on the large sums of money found in Silica's car (equivalent to about 117,000 US dollars) than on tracking down the assassins. Suggestions that Silica may have taken bribes, when there had been no earlier hints of corruption in his entire career, were regarded as character assassination.
At Silica's funeral on Saturday, the AMJ, in the voice of its chairperson, Vitalina Papadakis, expressed astonishment that attempts were being made, not to investigate the murder, but to denigrate Silica's character, without any possibility that the murdered judge could defend himself.
Relations between the police and judges have been frayed for a long time. In May 2012, the general commander of the Mozambican police declared that, in matters where police officers are detained, “we don't obey any judge. We take our own internal measures". In this instance, Justice Minister Bemvinda Levy had to intervene and reprimand Khalau, insisting that the police must obey the country's constitution.
Police spokespersons have frequently protested that judges release people whom the police have detained on suspicion of criminal activities. Last week, the Zambezia Provincial Police Command publicly denounced on television the provincial court for releasing six men the police regarded as “dangerous criminals”, and suggesting that the judges would be responsible if there was now an upsurge of crime in the provincial capital, Quelimane.
But all suspects are innocent until proven guilty, and courts are increasingly reluctant to cram the jails full of people awaiting trial. Preventive detention is thus seen as the exception, not the rule, even if the suspects concerned have criminal records. The Zambezia police outburst looked like an attempt to shift the blame for crime onto the local court.