Mozambique: Zitamar Editor Tom Bowker Expelled As Part of Press Crackdown

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

Zitamar editor Tom Bowker, partner and journalist Leigh Elston, and their two children left Mozambique today, expelled by the Minister of Interior, Amade Miquidade. They are not allowed to return for 10 years. This is apparently the first expulsion of a foreign journalist in more than two decades. It comes as part of a press crackdown which included the firebombing of Canal de Mocambique and a proposed very restrictive press law (see below).

Zitamar has become a highly respected daily business newsletter with a set of local correspondents, but it also became increasingly involved in reporting on the Cabo Delgado civil war. The US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) publishes the weekly war report Cabo Ligado in partnership with Zitamar and the Maputo newsletter Mediafax. https://acleddata.com/cabo-ligado-mozambique-conflict-observatory/

The underlying reason for both the expulsions and the general press crackdown is to curb reporting of the civil war in Cabo Delgado. Last week, under pressure from Mozambique, the Pope withdrew the outspoken Bishop of Pemba, Cabo Delgado. He had strongly defended the people of Cabo Delgado and was head of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. The Bishop and many academics and journalists have been pointing to the roots of the war as growing poverty and inequality, and the way just a small Frelimo elite benefits from the Cabo Delgado gas and rubies. Frelimo continues to portray the war as entirely Islamic State destabilisation from the outside, and does not want reporting that elite greed and police and army misconduct are causing people to join the insurgency.

The formal reason for the expulsion appears to be that Bowker is British and Zitamar is a British registered company which gives its business as "news agency", but it has no UK press registration number - because there is no press registration in the UK, and anyone can publish.

Comment  We are entering into a very difficult period in which the greed and corruption of Frelimo is the root of the civil war in Cabo Delgado. The military is weakened to a point that Total has demanded a 25 km safe zone around the onshore gas project before it resumes work, and the military cannot even reopen the only paved road from Pemba to Palma and the gas project. Frelimo needs to convince the international community that it must be supported because this is a terrorist war from outside, by Islamic State. And it needs the US and key European countries on board because they are profiting from the gas. It cannot accept anyone saying the emperor has no clothes - that the war has local roots. So the press, civil society, and academic researchers must by silenced. Others will follow the Bishop of Pemba, Tom Bowker, and Leigh Elston.  jh .

Proposed Press Law - Registration to be required of all publications

The Council of Ministers has sent a harsh press law to parliament, where approval by the government party seems likely. President press law requires the registration of printed periodicals only, and journalists do not require press cards.

The proposed law covers all publications of any sort: regular periodicals, one off publications, internet publications, and radio and TV stations. "Written media comprise general information publications and thematic publications, irrespective of their print run, format and form or means of production and distribution," says the draft law.

Publishers must submit 16 documents, including their source of funds. A licence must be issued before they publish their first issue. Any publication not registered is defined as "clandestine" and police and local authorities must close them.

Publications can only be run by Mozambican citizens, companies or associations; foreign publishing companies must be at least 80% Mozambican owned. No company can own more than two publications.

The registration can be suspended at any time.

Embassies and foreign NGOs must declare imported publications to the government.

All publications, including electronic ones, must be placed in a central depository.

Press cards and responsibilities

All journalists will be required to have government issued press cards. Criteria will be decided by the government, including processional qualifications. Anyone working for the foreign press requires a separate additional prior registration, and a foreign publication can only register two people. The draft law is unclear but this appears to apply to both Mozambicans and foreign journalists.

Journalists and publications must act in the "public interest" which is defined by a long list of restrictions which will make investigative journalism and criticism of the government much more difficult.

Criticism of the President is curbed, because if defamation is claimed, "proof of the truth" is not an admissible defence.

The draft press law is on http://bit.ly/MozComSoc and the draft radio and TV law is on http://bit.ly/MozRadio

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