Mozambique: Parliament Asked to Defend Freedom of Expression

Maputo — Representatives of several prominent Mozambican civil society organisations on Tuesday delivered a petition to Veronica Macamo, chairperson of the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, calling on the Assembly to intervene in defence of freedom of expression.

The petition comes in response to the kidnapping and brutal beating last week of journalist and lawyer Ericino de Salema.

Salema was abducted in broad daylight in front of the headquarters of the National Union of Journalists (SNJ) in central Maputo. He was then taken along the Maputo Ring Road into Marracuene district, where his unidentified assailants savagely beat him, breaking bones in both his legs. He is now recovering in a local hospital.

Speaking in the name of the civil society groups, Zelia Menete, of the Community Development Foundation (FDC), said that the organisations had decided to unite their voices in a demand for an end to intimidation.

They wanted the Assembly and the government to guarantee the freedom of expression and the right to information that are enshrined in the Mozambican constitution.

They noted that two years ago the political commentator Jose Jaime Macuane was also abducted and tortured. He received five bullet wounds in the legs. Macuane and Salema were both regular guests on the Sunday night chat show “Pontos de Vista” (“Points of View”) on the independent television station STV, and were frequently critical of government policies.

So far there is no sign of the police solving either case, and Menete warned that such failures lead to distrust in the seriousness with which the bodies of the administration of justice take attacks on critical voices.

The civil society bodies wanted a parliamentary initiative, such as a motion condemning all acts limiting the exercise of citizenship. They also wanted the Assembly to call Interior Minister Basilio Monteiro before a parliamentary hearing to explain what the police are doing to track down the authors of the killings and beatings that have punctuated Mozambican politics with stark regularity in recent years, without any of their authors being brought to justice.

Macamo promised to channel the petition to the relevant parliamentary bodies, and expressed her personal solidarity with all citizens who have suffered aggression.

Meanwhile the police seem no nearer to detaining anyone in connection with the assault against Salema. Both the Maputo city police spokesperson, Orlando Mudumane, on Monday and the spokesperson for the general command of the police, Inacio Dina, on Tuesday, could only tell reporters that the police “are continuing to work”.

Dina objected to establishing any parallels between the Salema and Macuane cases, or between these and the assassination of constitutional jurist Gilles Cistac in March 2015 - though all cases seemed to be the work of organised hit squads, striking in broad daylight, and acting with complete impunity, against people who had taken positions seen as critical of the government and the ruling Frelimo Party.

Dina said it was important to look at the specific nature of each case, since it was the details of the case that would dictate the course of the investigations. He even claimed that drawing parallels between cases might “divert” the investigators away from the correct path.

Such arguments might be more convincing, if the police ever caught anybody responsible for high profile attacks. But in addition to the cases of Cistac, Macuane and Salema, there are the unsolved murders of judge Dinis Silica (May 2014), of Jeremias Pondeca, a senior member of the rebel movement Renamo who also sat on the Council of State, an advisory body to President Filipe Nyusi October 2016), of the mayor of Nampula, Mahamudo Amurane (October 2017), and the attempted murder of the Renamo general secretary, Manuel Bissopo (January 2016). And these are merely the most prominent cases.

The police have been successful in bringing to justice the killers of just one well-known victim, investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso, murdered in November 2000. And this success was only possible because of an enormous public campaign waged inside Mozambique and abroad, which led to the complete replacement of the team of police investigators initially handling the case.

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