Maputo — The Gaza Provincial Court, in southern Mozambique, has set the second week of May as the date for the trial of the police officers who murdered civil society and election observation activist, Anastacio Matavel, on 7 October last year, in the provincial capital, Xai-Xai.
The death squad that gunned Matavel down consisted of five people, all of them members of the police force. They might never have been identified if the murder had gone to plan. But their escape vehicle was involved in a serious traffic accident as they tried to speed out of Xai-Xai. Two of the assassins (Nobrega Chauque and Martins Wiliamo) died in the crash, two (Edson Silica and Euclidio Mapulasse) survived and were arrested, and the fifth (Agapito Matavele) is a fugitive believed to be in South Africa.
But the judge in the case has not yet ruled on a key piece of evidence. The lawyer for the Matavel family requested the telephone data for the accused for 5, 6 and 7 October. This data would show who the accused had been speaking to in the days leading up to the murder.
Yet the judge has neither accepted nor denied the request from the family, reports the prominent civil society organisation, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), in its latest bulletin. The judge has not ordered the mobile phone companies to turn over their records for the calls made on those days to and from the phones of the accused, but nor has he turned down the family's request.
Under Mozambican law, a judge can turn down such a request, if he thinks it is irrelevant for discovering the truth. But in that case, he must give a dispatch explaining his decision. No such dispatch has been issued.
This "tendentious behaviour" by the court, accuses the CDD, "only serves to obstruct the discovery of the material truth, particularly the identity of those who truly gave the order to murder Anastacio Matavel".
The Matavel family has also demanded that the State pay compensation of 35 million meticais (about 522,000 US dollars, at current exchange rates). They are quite entitled to compensation, since the Mozambican constitution states that "the State is responsible for the damage caused by illegal acts of its agents, in the exercise of their functions".
But the Gaza provincial attorney's office argues that the State has no obligation to pay compensation because, although the accused were all police officers, they were acting on their own initiative.
This is the same strategy hit upon by the defendants Euclidio Mapulasse and Edson Silica who now deny that they received orders from their superiors to murder Matavel. But initially, in his first interrogation, Mapulasse let slip that he had been told by a superior that the death squad would be rewarded for the murder by promotions in the police.
The provincial attorney also claimed that the assassins could not possibly have been on duty on 7 October since that day was a public holiday in Xai-Xai. CDD points out that such holidays do not cover workers whose jobs cannot be interrupted in the interests of the public - a category which includes policemen.
The CDD argues that the behaviour of both the judge and the provincial attorney "clearly shows that the Mozambican judicial bodies are not interested in justice in the Matavel case". The CDD therefore repeats its call for "this heinous crime to be brought before the international mechanisms that uphold human rights so that the Mozambican state may be held responsible for the acts of its agents".