Mozambique: Journalist Tom Bowker to be Expelled Saturday

Zitamar News, written and edited in Maputo and London, has fallen foul of the Mozambican government.

Tom Bowker, journalist and editor of the respected Zitamar newsletter, has been ordered to leave the country by Saturday. The expulsion is entirely unofficial - there is nothing in writing. Tom is British and has been a journalist in Mozambique for seven years; Zitamar is a company registered in the UK.

Bowker was called into the Migration Services with his lawyer on Monday (25 Jan) and told verbally that he had to leave by Saturday, based on a complaint from Gabinfo, the government information office. Mendes Mutenda, communications director of Gabino, told the new daily newspaper Ponto por Ponto (28 Jan http://bit.ly/MozEdExpell) that it has withdrawn Bowker's press card because he "failed to provide documents that prove that Zitamar exists."

Bowker had provided Zitamar's UK company registration (which is publicly available on the web) which proves it exists, and specifies "Nature of business: News agency activities." But Gabinfo demanded a press registration, and refused to accept the explanation from Bowker and British diplomats that the UK does not have any form of press registration.

In December, Egidio Vaz, a social media blogger who lauds President Filipe Nyusi, called for Bowker's expulsion because of his reporting of the Cabo Delgado war. But this is apparently the first expulsion of a foreign journalist in more than 30 years.

The real reason for the expulsion is not clear. But it will be widely argued outside that it is because Zitamar has been one of best and most accurate reporters on the war in Cabo Delgado. Zitamar and MediaFax have a good network of correspondents there and with Acled last year set up Cabo Ligado which is now the best weekly report on the war. The government has consistently been trying to prevent reporting of the war, and expelling Bowker may be seen as a way to stop Cabo Ligado and reporting of the war.

Zitamar is still mainly a business newsletter, and most major businesses have Frelimo links, so his investigations may have gotten too close to one of the oligarchs. And Frelimo is closing in on the press. Last August, the offices of Canal de Mocambique were firebombed, and journalists are increasingly threatened.

But it remains unclear whether Bowker really must leave, as he has been given no formal written notice. Hopefully he will be told that he and his lawyer misunderstood and it was merely a threat of what will happen if he keeps reporting on the war.

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