Maputo — The lawyer for the family of murdered civil society activist Anastacio Matavel, Flavio Menete, on Thursday insisted that the Mozambican state must compensate the family.
He was speaking at the Gaza provincial court in the city of Xai-Xai, where the prosecution and defence summed up their cases in the trial of seven people accused of the murder.
Matavel, who was the executive director of the Gaza Forum of NGOs (FONGA), was gunned down in broad daylight in Xai-Xai. On 7 October, by a death squad consisting of five members of the Special Operations Group (GOE) of the Mozambican police.
We know who they all were, because their getaway car was involved in a major traffic accident as it sped away from the scene of the crime. Two of the assassins, Nobrega Chauque and Martins Wiliamo, died in the crash. Two others, Edson Silica (who had been driving the car) and Euclidio Mapulasse, were arrested, while the fifth Agapito Matavele, escaped and is currently a fugitive.
Not only are Silica and Mapulasse in the dock: so are their commanding officers, Tudela Guirrugo, commander of the Gaza company of the GOE and Alfredo Macuacua, commander of the Gaza branch of the UIR (Rapid Intervention Unit, the Mozambican riot police). Also charged are Januario Rungo, chief of staff of the Gaza UIR, Justino Muchanga, head of the UIR arsenal from which the guns used in the murder were taken, and Ricardo Manganhe, who lent the death squad the car used, a Toyota Mark X.
While the Public Prosecutor's Office, represented at the trial by Luis Vianheque, has no doubt that the police officers are guilty, it argues that the state should not pay compensation to the family because the accused were acting on their own, and not as agents of the state.
According to the account of the trial in Friday's issue of the independent newssheet "Medafax", Menete, who is a former chairperson of the Mozambique Bar Association (OAM), argued that the state is responsible - the murder was a state crime, carried out by police officers, using police guns. He pointed out that the guns were not stolen from the police arsenal, but the killers registered taking them out and putting them back.
Menete noted that, with the exception of Mapulasse, disciplinary proceedings have not been initiated against the policemen on trial. Furthermore, they have continued to receive their wages, and some were even promoted (although the police General Command later claimed this was a mistake). The police are even paying for a lawyer to represent the death squad members, and that lawyer, Elisio de Sousa, goes to and from the court in a police vehicle.
"They continue to receive their wages, because they carried out a mission", he accused. As for the promotions, "that was no mistake", declared Menete. "At that time everybody knew what had happened, and on seeing the list of names of agents to be promoted, would easily notice the names of people who had committed a barbaric crime".
Menete also pointed out that after the crash Mapulasse did not want to be treated in a hospital, but in his police barracks. "You go back to the barracks after undertaking a mission", he remarked.
He demanded "exemplary punishment" for the accused and compensation of 35 million meticais (about 507,000 US dollars, at current exchange rates) for the Matavel family. He also argued that the Public Prosecutor, as the lawyer for the state, faced a conflict of interests, and so, as allowed for under its own Statutes, the Public Prosecutor's Office should have asked the OAM to appoint an attorney to represent the state in this case.
The prosecutor said the death squad had acted like a gang of poachers. "The accused were hunting Matavel as if he were a rhinoceros", he declared. (This comparison is apt in Gaza, since the province has supplied many of the poachers who slaughter rhinos across the border in South Africa's Kruger National Park).
But he argued that he Mozambican state was not responsible, because the accused were not on duty when they assassinated Matavel. They were dressed in civilian clothes, they met outside of working hours, 7 October was a municipal holiday - and so the murderers acted on their own account, and it was they who should compensate the family and not the state.
Elisio de Sousa, the lawyer for Silica, Mapulasse, Guirrugo and Macuacua, also argued that the crimes were not committed in the name of the state, because "the state does not commit crimes".
He even claimed that the murder was an attempted robbery, as if the fact that Matavel was one of the most prominent civil society and election observation figures in the province was a mere coincidence. Furthermore, no attempt was made to steal money or anything else from Matavel. The killers simply pumped his body full of bullets and fled the scene.
Sousa blamed the murder on the conveniently absent Agapito Matavele, and even argued that his clients should be provisionally released, so that they could spend the time between sentencing and the inevitable appeal in freedom.