Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is relieved by the release of two journalists who were held for months for covering an Islamist insurrection in Cabo Delgado province, in northeastern Mozambique, but calls for the withdrawal of the spurious charges brought against them.
Amade Abubacar and Germano Daniela Adriano, who work for local radio and TV station Nacedje in the town of Macomia, were released today but are charged with "spreading messages damaging to the Mozambican Armed Forces."
Abubacar was arrested on 5 January while interviewing families fleeing violence by the Islamist armed group that is operating in the province. Adriano was arrested a few weeks later. No formal charges were brought against them until 16 April, which was after the 90-day limit on preventive detention in Abubacar's case.
"The release of these two journalists is a relief, but it would be premature to express satisfaction because they are still facing prosecution," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk."These trumped-up charges must be abandoned without delay, as should the policy of intimidating journalists who try to cover the Islamist insurrection in northeastern Mozambique. It is unacceptable for the authorities to turn part of the country into a news and information 'black hole' just months ahead of a general election."
Estacio Valoi, an investigative reporter for the daily Zambeze, was arrested and held for two days last December while doing a report in Cabo Delgado province on the insurrection's impact on the lives of the local population.
A journalist in the capital told RSF: "We have a lot of difficulty in accessing this region, even with a press card, and the authorities refuse to provide information. The latest official bulletin was back in October but we continue to hear about new violence almost every day."
The clampdown has not spared international media. Several foreign outlets that want to visit the regions experiencing violence have waited for weeks after requesting permission. According to Human Rights Watch, a BBC crew was refused accreditation in June 2018 because the Mozambican authorities thought the story was "embarrassing."
Mozambique is ranked 103rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, four places lower than in 2018 and ten places lower than in 2017.