Maputo — The Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) has announced that on Tuesday the two journalists detained in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, Amade Abubacar and Germano Adriano, were set free.
MISA-Mozambique, which has been providing the two journalists with legal assistance, said they were released against a statement of identity and residence.
But charges against them have not been dropped. However, they have been softened. Initially, the two were accused of security offences. They had allegedly violated state security and committed "public instigation using computerised means".
Now, however, according to the MISA-Mozambique statement, citing a prosecution dispatch of 16 April, the two are accused of "spreading messages that discredit members of the Mozambican Armed Forces (FADM) through a Facebook account that announced attacks which occurred in villages in Macomia district".
In other words, the two men were doing their jobs in attempting to report on the clashes between islamist insurgents and the defence forces in Macomia.
Abubacar and Adriano both work on the Macomia community radio and television station. Abubakar was arrested in Macomia town on 5 January, while he was photographing families fleeing from insurgent attacks in the interior of the district.
The police handed him over to the FADM, and he was driven to the neighbouring district of Mueda where he was illegally incarcerated in a barracks. Under Mozambican law, detained civilians may not be held in military facilities.
After he was returned to the police later in January, a delegation from the human rights commission of the Mozambique Bar Association (OAM) spoke to him, and he told them the soldiers beat him and forced him to sleep handcuffed for several days.
Abubacar said he had been denied food for some days, and so when he was returned to Macomia, the district attorney had to buy him food before proceeding with an interrogation.
He was transferred to the Nieze prison in the provincial capital, Pemba, where he was joined by Germano Adriano, detained in mid-February on the same trumped-up charges.
The two journalists can now await their trial in freedom while MISA-Mozambique pledges that it will continue the legal battle to prove their innocence.
The arrests outraged press freedom organisations internationally, and are one of the reasons why Mozambique slipped several places in the press freedom rankings published every year by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters without Borders).
In the 2019 rankings, Mozambique was in 103rd position out of 180 countries. It was in 99th position in 2018, and 93rd in 2017.
In its notes on Mozambique, RSF attributes this decline to the clampdown on media coverage of the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, and claimed that the authorities are doing everything to prevent coverage of the armed Islamist militants operating in the north of the country.
RSF also warned that the press freedom situation would deteriorate if a decree increasing press accreditation charges, including for foreign journalists and media, were to be implemented. The charges are exorbitant, and caused such an uproar that the decree was speedily withdrawn. But it might yet be re-introduced, and RSF warns that this "could turn Mozambique into Africa's most expensive country in which to report".