Maputo — The chairperson of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, Esperanca Bias, told reporters on Wednesday that she had not been informed of any reason that prevented a deputy from the ruling Frelimo Party, Alberto Niquice, from taking up his seat in the Assembly.
The vast majority of deputies were sworn in on 13 January - but Niquice was absent, and it was suspected that he did not show up because he was facing criminal charges of raping a 13 year old girl in Xai-Xai, capital of the southern province of Gaza.
About 30 civil society organisations, on 8 January, submitted a request to Bias (with copies sent to the Attorney-General's Office and the Constitutional Council) urging that the investiture of Niquice should be suspended.
They argued that, if he were sworn in, he would obtain parliamentary immunity, which might make it difficult to prosecute him.
But, on 31 January, Bias herself swore Niquice in as a deputy. She said she knew of no reason why he should not be sworn in.
The Assembly, she added, had received "no information from any body of the administration of justice which would prevent this citizen from being invested as a deputy". As for the civil society letter, she claimed it was unsigned, and so "we don't have anybody with whom we might have had a dialogue".
"Above all there are rules that should be followed", Bias said. "We have received nothing which would prevent this deputy from taking his seat".
Bias seemed unaware that the public prosecutor's office in Gaza had already withdrawn the charges against Niquice for lack of sufficient evidence. Only after this decision did Niquice take the oath of office.
According to the independent newsheet "Carta de Mocambique", the public prosecutor issued the dispatch declining to charge Niquice on 23 January - a week before he took his seat.
The dispatch said it would not be correct to press charges because the only evidence against Niquice were statements by the mother of the child, who denounced Niquice to the police, and the child herself, who claimed Niquice had had sex with her. Given her age, this would have been considered rape, even if she had consented.
A medical report on the child said there were no signs of any recent sexual intercourse. There were no injuries to her genitals, and all the tests (such as for syphilis and HIV) were negative.
The girl's mother claimed that Niquice had picked her daughter up from a party in September 2018, and then took her to a house on the Xai-Xai beach where he raped her and asked her to tell nobody.
The rape claim was fatally damaged by the mother's delay of almost a year in reporting it to the authorities.
The girl herself contradicted her mother, by claiming that the party and the rape took place in March 2019. But the friend whose birthday she was supposedly celebrating said she did not hold any party in her house in 2019.
The public prosecutor said the elements of proof were insufficient to charge Niquice. He therefore should receive "the benefit of the doubt" until any further evidence is forthcoming.