Mozambique: Bar Association Urges Police to Halt Detentions

Maputo — The Human Rights Commission of the Mozambican Bar Association (OAM) on Wednesday urged the police stop detaining citizens and holding them in police cells, under risky health conditions, merely because they were found on the streets of Greater Maputo after 21.00.

The Greater Maputo Metropolitan Area, which covers Maputo, the adjacent city of Matola and Boane and Marracuene districts, has been under a curfew since 5 February, between 21.00 and 04.00.

The curfew was imposed as a measure to halt the spread of the Covid-19 respiratory disease. The health authorities indicated that Greater Maputo is the part of Mozambique worst hit by the pandemic.

Under the curfew, scheduled to end on 5 March, the police have been detaining people on the streets after 21.00, but without certifying whether appropriate conditions exist in the cells where the detainees are held overnight.

Addressing reporters at a press conference, the chairperson of the OAM Human Rights Commission, Feroza Zacarias, said detaining people should never be a move that puts their health at risk. The detainees have not been tested for Covid-19 and so their health status is unknown. Close proximity in police vehicles and cells also violates the normal rules on social distancing.

"It is our understanding that if a citizen has been found by the police out of home, with motives which might be either justifiable or not, under no circumstance should he be placed under greater risk of contamination," Zacarias said.

The OAM urged the authorities to halt immediately the overcrowding of police facilities where, in most cases, detainees are just held in administrative areas for a few hours before being released without charge the following morning.

"We shall continue to make efforts in order to ensure close cooperation with the police and stronger coordination with the Attorney General's Office at city and provincial level, to ensure the restoration of legality whenever it has been violated," Zacarias said.

The commission has reiterated its belief that the presidential decree which imposed the curfew is illegal and unconstitutional, since laws that limit constitutionally enshrined freedoms and guarantees can only be approved by parliament, and not merely by the government.

Zacarias said a few days after the decree on the curfew took effect, the OAM offered 50 lawyers placed full time in police stations to assist, free of charge, the citizens detained for breaking the curfew.

"The citizen does not pay anything he only asks for the intervention of our lawyers who then give the needed assistance," she said, adding that although they could not be everywhere at the same time, they certainly managed to reduce a great number of abuses.

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