Maputo — A judge in the Chokwe district court, in the southern Mozambican province of Gaza, on Tuesday granted provisional freedom to 18 polling station monitors of the newly formed opposition party, Nova Democracia (ND - New Democracy) - but only if they each pay bail of 40,000 meticais (about 635 US dollars) - an extraordinarily high sum in a country such as Mozambique.
The 18 are currently being held in the prison in the Gaza provincial capital, Xai-Xai. The basis for their arrests is that they were supposedly observing the count at polling stations in Chokwe district, on the day of the elections, without being duly accredited, or using forged credentials. The ND leadership insists that the accusation is baseless and that they were duly accredited.
According to Quiteria Guirrengane, the ND national election agent, cited in Thursday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique", the judge announced his decision on Tuesday, and gave ND five days to pay the bail. For the 18 prisoners, that is 720,000 meticais.
Guirrengane said the ND does not have the funds available to pay this bail, and is now attempting to raise the money Despite regarding the court decision as unjust, she said the party will do all it can to ensure that its polling station monitors are released as soon as possible.
The whole matter reeks of illegality. The 18 have been held for almost six weeks and in that period no formal charges have been laid against them. But under Mozambican election law, they should have been charged and brought to court within three days of the arrests.
The illegal detention of the monitors is part of the attempts made in Gaza to prevent independent observation of the elections. These attempts ranged from simply denying credentials to observers to outright murder.
On 7 October, prominent civil society and election observer activist Anastacio Matavel was gunned down in Xai-Xai. Because their getaway car was involved in an accident as the assassins attempted to flee the scene, it soon became known that the death squad consisted of five members of the police force.