17 January 2019

Mozambique: Detained Journalist Accused of 'Instigation to Crime'

Photo: Daily Trust
(File photo).

Maputo — After being held illegally in military custody in the northern town of Mueda for 11 days, the journalist Amade Abubacar is being charged with "public instigation to crime", according to the spokesperson for the Cabo Delgado provincial attorney's office, Armando Wilson, cited in Thursday's issue of the independent daily "O Pais".

Wilson said that Abubacar is now being held in the police command in Mueda, and will soon be sent to Macomia to be interrogated by a judge.

He was detained in Macomia, the district where he lives and works, on 5 January, while undertaking normal journalistic duties - according to eye-witnesses, he was photographing families fleeing from the terrorist gangs who have been raiding villages in the interior of the district. He was then driven 90 kilometres to Mueda, where he was thrown into a military barracks - although it is entirely illegal to imprison civilians in military facilities.

Now he is being returned to Macomia - which suggests that the civilian law authorities may have wrested control of the case back from the military.

According to the document drawn up by the National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC), Abubacar is accused of "public instigation to crime through use of computers", an offence added to the Penal Code in 2014. Abubacar is believed to be the first person ever charged under this article of the Code.

Wilson gave no details, and so it is entirely unclear what kind of crime Abubacar allegedly instigated.

Other journalists in Cabo Delgado now fear that anything they write about the current islamist insurrection might lead to their detention and imprisonment. One reporter, Milda da Esperanca, cited by "O Pais", admitted "I'm afraid to write certain news items, particularly about the armed attacks, which are apparently the motive for the recent detentions of journalists".

"We are witnessing a direct attack on press freedom in Cabo Delgado", declared another local reporter Buanamade Assane. "In other countries, journalists can visit the bases of the enemies of the state and they are not detained".

The Higher Mass Media Council (CSCS), the watchdog body on matters of press freedom and the right to information established under the Mozambican constitution, has urged the defence and security forces to release Abubacar and conform with the law.

In a Wednesday release, the CSCS said it had become increasingly concerned at the fate of Abubacar, noting that since his detention on 5 January, he had been held incommunicado, under military custody.

Its concerns had been heightened by the statement from the Cabo Delgado police spokesperson, Augusto Guta, on Tuesday that the police could give no public explanation of the case because it was "delicate".

The CSCS pointed out that the concept of "a delicate case" has no justification under Mozambican law, and that all citizens have the constitutional right to defence and to a fair trial, if accused of a crime.

Abubakar's father, Abubakar Artur, cited in Thursday's issue of the independent newssheet "Mediafax", said he had been deeply hurt "to find that the government I work for is doing this to my son".

For Artur is a supporter of the Mozambican government, and in 2017, as head of the locality of Pangane, he was in charge of preparations for a visit by President Filipe Nyusi to this part of Cabo Delgado.

He believed that it was not the government as such that was behaving in a criminal manner, "but people who don't know how to work and are besmirching the government".

Artur said the authorities he had contacted showed no willingness to help him. "I've spoken several times directly with the Macomia district police commander, but I'm always told I should wait patiently. But how can I wait patiently, if I don't even know where my son is?"

He did not believe for a moment that his son had anything to do with the armed attacks in Cabo Delgado. "I know my son. At no moment could he do this", Artur said.

The real problem, he added, was that some people did not like the news items Abubacar broadcast on the Nacedje community radio in Macomia. "They've wanted to kidnap my son for a long time", he said. "There were just waiting for an opportunity, and they got it that day (5 January) in Macomia".

"He wasn't arrested for any photographs", said Artur. "There's a hot potato here that they don't want to talk about, but my son is not and never has been a criminal".

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