Mozambique: Police Death Squad Jailed, But Those At Top Protected

(File photo)

A police death squad was jailed on 18 June for gunning down civil society election observation organiser Anastacio Matavele in Xai Xai, Gaza, on 7 October, just before the election. But the court blocked all attempts to identify who gave the order and refused to hold the state responsible.

The group was only caught because after the drive-by shooting they were involved in a traffic accident which killed two members of the death squad. A third disappeared after the accident and is still on the run. Convicted were the head of the paramilitary riot police (UIR, Unidade de Intervencao Rapido) unit that carried out the killing and the commander of the UIR's special operations group (GOE, Grupo de Operacoes Especiais), as well as two GOE members who took part in the murder. They were each sentenced to 23-24 years in jail. Two other UIR officials were fined 40-45,000 Meticas ($570-$640) for lying and trying to cover up the crime. The owners of the borrowed car used were acquitted.

Matavele's family and their lawyers argued that this was an official mission ordered at higher level. All those involved were police using guns formally handed out to them by the UIR. All were taken off other police duties for two weeks to prepare. Three were subsequently promoted. And the police supplied their lawyer at the trial.

The prosecution argument was that this was all organised by Agapito Matavele (no relation), who ran away from the crash and is conveniently missing, and the motive was a personal dispute which was never explained.

Matavele's family's lawyers petitioned the court to ask for the defendants mobile telephone records for the days before the murder, which might have shown if they were talking to people at higher levels, but this request was refused. Mozambique's constitution says the state is liable to compensate for damages caused by its agents, but the court in Gaza refused compensation on the grounds that the police were not acting for the state.

CDD (Centro para Democracia e Desenvolvimento) followed the May trial and published daily reports, some also in English.

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