16 May 2014

Mozambique: Judges' Strike Paralyses Maputo Courts

Maputo — The one day strike by judges in protest at the murder last week of Dinis Silica, of the criminal investigation section of the Maputo City Court, closed down courts across the capital on Thursday.

Journalists who visited the Maputo Palace of Justice and the Maputo City Court found that all the courtrooms were shut and locked. The same scene of courtrooms closed and trials postponed was true in the central cities of Beira and Chimoio.

The judges did not use the term strike. They said they had declared “a day of reflection”. One judge, Ana Carla de Sousa, even told reporters “we have not paralysed our activities. Not all judges are present at this meeting, because some are in the courts guaranteeing minimum services”.

But reporters could find no sign of any services at all in the courts. Indeed, the note sent to all magistrates by the chairperson of the Mozambican Association of Judges (AMJ), Vitalina Papadakis, called on all judges to cancel trials scheduled for Thursday, and arrange other dates for them. This note made no mention of “minimum services”.

The striking judges lead a wreath at the set of Maputo traffic lights where Silica was assassinated. Speaking at the ceremony, Papadakis said that judges and prosecutors in Maputo city and province “have decided to express their indignation at the silence from the leaderships of the judicial magistracy and the public prosecutors' office, and from the government, following the macabre crime of which judge Dinis Silica was a victim”.

By leaderships, Papadakis was presumably referring to the Supreme Court and the Attorney-General's Office, neither of which has made any public statement following the assassination.

Papadakis said the judges “repudiate the attempt to transform the victim into an object of investigation, and propose to the government that it should set up a commission of inquiry into the circumstances of the assassination of Dinis Silica”.

Lawyers were not enthusiastic about the strike. The chairperson of the Bar Association, Tomas Timbane, said he was in solidarity with the concerns expressed by the judges, but thought they had no right to take strike action which can only damage the interests of ordinary citizens.

“Judges cannot go on strike”, Timbane told the independent newsheet “Mediafax” on Thursday. “They are part of the state. They are an organ of sovereignty. The state cannot rebel against the state itelf”.

The problems faced by magistrates were nothing new, he added, “but unfortunately the judges are not sufficiently well organised to present these problems in an articulated manner”.

The Bar Association had always spoken of the problems facing the court, but it had done so alone, without the solidarity of judges or prosecutors. “Now that the security of magistrates themselves is at stake, we feel that they are concerned”, said Timbane. “But it seems to us that they are only concerned when it comes to dealing with their own problems”.

On Friday, on his Facebook page, Timbane criticized the call for a Commission of Inquiry just to investigate the death of Silica. If there were to be a Commission, it would have to investigate Silica's life as well, since the police had called his good name into question by publicly displaying the large sums of money (equivalent to about 117,000 US dollars) supposedly found in his car.

If doubt had been cast on Silica's reputation, “then let his life also be investigated to show that he was a decent, unpolluted man, and that the suspicions are unfounded”.

“We must fight for a better justice system for all of us, always, and not just to solve our problems when our own situation is at stake”, Timbane declared.


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