Maputo — The Cabo Delgado Provincial Court in northern Mozambique on Wednesday sentenced 37 people to prison terms of between 12 and 40 years for their part in the islamist insurgency that began with attacks on police premises in October 2017.
The trial began on 3 October last year, with 189 accused. In a serious blow to the police and the prosecution, the court acquitted 113 of the defendants for insufficient evidence against them.
The spokesperson for the court, Zacarias Napatima, cited in Thursday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambnique", said that "autonomous cases" are being opened against 20 other accused. These are presumably the same people who were granted provisional freedom before the trial, but then absconded, and whose whereabouts are currently unknown.
Those sentenced were found guilty of such crimes as first degree murder, combating the organisation of the Mozambican state, instigating collective disobedience, possession of illegal weapons, and membership of a criminal organisation.
Ten of the accused were sentenced to 40 years, and 24 to 16 years. Three of the accused were under 21 years of age, and were sent to prison for 12 years. Most of the accused were Mozambicans but they also included foreigners (mainly Tanzanians).
The defence lawyers said they regarded the sentences as "just" - nonetheless, they were not sure whether they would appeal. The prosecution has not yet commented on the sentences.
Further mass trials of insurgents are likely later this year. Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili, giving her annual report to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Wednesday, said that 19 cases are under way, with 339 suspects. 275 of the suspects are being held in preventive detention, while the other 64 have been allowed to await their trials in freedom.
In 12 of the cases, charges have been brought, and laid before the Cabo Delgado provincial court.
The other seven cases are still at the preliminary phase of investigation.