Maputo — The Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body MISA (Media Institute of South Africa) has called on the State authorities to act vigorously against threats to freedom of expression and of the press that appear in social media.
A MISA-Mozambique press statement points out that the insurgency in the northern province of Cabo Delgado and the attacks on main roads in the centre of the country perpetrated by the self-styled "Renamo Military Junta" are matters of interest to journalists - yet in social media "there have been blatant threats to the freedoms of the press and of expression aimed at journalists and media who are interested in journalistic coverage of the insurgency".
The most blatant threat came in a Facebook post written by Juliao Joao Cumbane, under the title "The time for playing about is over" in which he openly called for violence against those who dare to report on the situation in Cabo Delgado.
Cumbane called on the defence and security forces to combine "intelligence and energetic actions, even extra-legal ones" against what he described as "despondent" news items.
This call on the army and the police to resort to illegal measures against journalists who write critical pieces "cannot be accepted in a democratic state under the rule of law", declares MISA.
The main targets for Cumbane's threat are the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique", and its editor, Marcelo Mosse. "Carta de Mocambique" is one of the few media that has reported regularly on the terrorist insurgency in Cabo Delgado.
MISA points out that there have already been illegal actions against journalists in Cabo Delgado, notably the detention of journalists Amade Abubacar and Germano Adriano, who both worked on the community radio station in Macomia district. Abubacar was also a stringer for "Carta de Mocambique".
Abubacar was held illegally from 5 January to 23 April 2019, in violation of the 90 day deadline on preventive detention. For part of this time he was held in a military barracks in Mueda, although it is absolutely illegal to detain civilians in military facilities.
He was eventually charged with the spurious offence of "spreading messages damaging to the Mozambican Armed Forces". No date has yet been set for a trial of either Abubacar or Adriano.
The Facebook threat does not come from just another social media scribbler. Cumbane is a senior academic who currently holds the position of Chairperson of the Board of the National Company of Science and Technology Parks, a position to which the government appointed him last year.
He is a prolific writer of tracts on Facebook in defence of the ruling Frelimo Party - although he holds no formal position in Frelimo, and has no authority to behave as though he were a spokesperson for the Party.
MISA points out that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental rights enshrined in the Mozambican constitution, and that it is the duty of the Mozambican state to protect the rights of citizens in general, and of journalists in particular, even in time of war. That duty is established by the Geneva Convention and its First Protocol, ratified by Mozambique in 1983.
Freedom of the press and of expression, MISA adds, can only be limited in the event of a state of siege or state of emergency, neither of which has been declared in Mozambique.
MISA urges the Higher Mass Media Council (CNCS), the watchdog body on press freedom established by the Constitution, to end its silence in the face of threats such as those from Cumbane.
The Public Prosecutor's Office, it says, should also demand that Cumbane respect the Constitution and the laws.
MISA also urges President Filipe Nyusi to guarantee that all civil servants, especially those in positions of leadership, observe the country's laws.