Maputo — The human rights body, Amnesty International, has taken up the case of 18 polling station monitors of a recently formed Mozambican opposition party, Nova Democracia (ND - New Democracy), who were arrested in Chokwe district, in the southern province of Gaza, during the count of the 15 October general and provincial elections.
They are accused of using false credentials to enter the polling stations, although ND insists that the credentials are authentic.
Despite this dispute over the credentials, a judge immediately validated the arrest, and that evening they were moved from the police cells in Chokwe, to the neighbouring district of Guija, on the opposite bank of the Limpopo rover.
The 18 have now been moved again, to a prison in the provincial capital, Xai-Xai. Amnesty says this move was made "without informing their lawyers or family members".
"The ongoing arbitrary detention of this group of election monitors is a travesty. They have spent over a month in overcrowded cells where they are denied access to lawyers and cut off from their families, simply for doing their jobs," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southern Africa, in a press release from the organisation.
A Mozambican civil society organisation, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), in a release issued on Friday, said that the 18 were detained after refusing an "invitation to collaborate" and an offer of 1,000 meticais (about 16 US dollars) by a man wearing civilian clothes, who was allowed to move freely in and out of Chokwe polling stations.
CDD says the 18 are detained "merely for exercising a fundamental right explicitly enshrined in the Mozambican constitution, namely the right to political participation".
CDD urged the Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili to visit Chokwe and Guija districts personally to see for herself what is going on, and ensure the immediate restoration of legality. It also urged the Higher Council of the Judicial Magistracy (CSMJ) to open an inquiry into the legality of the behaviour of the judge who authorised the continued detention of the 18.
ND regards the 18 as political prisoners. It says the prison conditions in Guija were inhuman, especially for the six women in the group, who were kept in a small cell without the most basic of hygiene conditions.
They had no bathroom, and CDD says it confirmed from local sources that the women were obliged to use old newspapers and plastic bags to urinate and defecate.
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the 18 monitors.
There were no legal grounds for continued detention, and indeed the 18 "should not have spent a single night in detention and must be immediately and unconditionally released," said Deprose Muchena."The Mozambican authorities must open the civic space and stop treating human rights with contempt."