Maputo — The Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) warned on Friday of a deteriorating situation for the press in Mozambique.
In a report published to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, MISA said that in 2018 violations of press freedom had increased "with several cases of detentions, kidnappings, assault and death threats against journalists, many of them linked with the coverage of political and election campaigns".
During the year "the press and civil society were increasingly cornered, limited and with their freedoms controlled", the report said. "The freedoms of expression and of the press were limited, and exercising them became a risky business, through the installation of a climate of fear and violence".
A key role in the deterioration of press freedom was played by the conflict in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where the government has faced a shadowy insurgency of forces apparently inspired by Islamic fundamentalism.
"The anger of the military against journalists who went to the sites of conflict to report on the phenomenon has increased", said the MISA report. Cases have been reported of the confiscation of journalists' working equipment, and, in a new development, "journalists were obliged to provide their e-mails and respective passwords in flagrant violation of their privacy".
A Zimbabwean journalist attempting to cover the conflict was detained, but was released the following day after MISA intervention. Later in the year, Mozambican journalist Estacio Valoi, a researcher for Amnesty International, David Matsinhe, and their driver were detained while gathering information in Palma district, and were then held in a military barracks n Mocimboa da Praia for three days.
Matters went from bad to worse this year, although it is beyond the time frame of the report. Two journalists on the Macomia community radio and television station, Amade Abubacar and Germano Adriano, were detained on trumped-up security charges. Abubacar was kept in a barracks, although it is illegal to hold civilians in military facilities. The two were released from preventive detention last month, but still face absurd charges of "spreading messages that discredit members of the armed forces".
Among the most shocking attacks on reporters in 2018, was the kidnapping and brutal beating of Ericino de Salema, who was a regular guest on the programme "Pontos de Vista" (Points of View) broadcast by the independent television station STV. Clearly somebody objected to Salema's outspoken views because, on 27 March 2018, he was kidnapped in broad daylight outside the headquarters of the National Journalists Union (SNJ), and driven to Chihango, on the outskirts of Maputo, where the kidnappers severely beat him, breaking his arms and legs.
Nobody has been arrested for this crime, just as nobody was arrested when an earlier guest on the same programme, academic Jose Macuane, was also kidnapped and tortured in 2016.
During the campaign for the municipal elections of October 2018, journalists were repeatedly attacked and threatened. Thus journalists on Radio Watana, a radio belonging to the Catholic Church, in the northern port of Nacala received threats over the phone from unknown individuals who claimed they had contributed to the defeat of the ruling Frelimo Party in that city. The deputy and deputy director of Radio Encontro in Nampula city received similar threats.
Francisco Raiva, a prominent reporter on STV, was attacked by a policeman in the central town of Marromeu, while covering the repeat municipal election (after the first election had been annulled at eight polling stations). A cameraman for the Miramar television station was attacked by members of the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, in the city of Chimoio, because he was filming a riot at the local Renamo office.
Despite this grim overall picture, MISA notes that journalists did score occasional victories. Thus a Maputo court acquitted the editor of the weekly paper "Canal de Mocambique", Matias Guente, who had been accused of libel because of a caricature of one of the directors of the Bank of Mozambique, Joana Matsombe, which the paper had published.