Mozambique: Govt Claims Commitment to Press Freedom But MISA Warns of Abuses

(File photo).

Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Monday reiterated the commitment of his government to defend the right to information, in compliance with its mission to improve living conditions and strengthen democracy.

In a message to mark World Press Freedom Day, Nyusi declared that freedom of the press is fundamental in free and democratic societies, since through it people gain information about public events, and can better exercise their citizenship rights.

The theme for this year's commemorations is "Information as a public asset". Nyusi said this theme should raise awareness of the need to strengthen journalism, and promote transparency and empowerment "without leaving anyone behind".

"In a context when the world is assailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, press freedom takes on greater relevance, because people do not need only to be informed of the evolution of the pandemic, but also must be educated to adopt responsible behaviour", the President added.

But the Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body, MISA (Media Institute of Sothern Africa) warned that press freedoms are currently under threat in Mozambique.

A MISA-Mozambique report on the state of press freedom, covering the years 2019 and 2020, said that the restrictions in force to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and the terrorist attacks in the northern province of Cabo Delgado are factors leading to a visible deterioration in the working conditions of journalists, with the government and the defence and security forces taking advantage of the situation to exercise greater control over journalists.

MISA accused the publicly owned media of a lack of pluralism in debate, and the appointment of senior management in the public media on the basis of party-political criteria.

In the two years covered by the report there had been a "hostile and turbulent" atmosphere for the media, "not only from the point of view of the number of cases of violations of press freedoms, which have been growing, but also because of their seriousness, so that journalists work in a climate of fear, insecurity and risk".

MISA recorded 20 cases of violations of press freedom in 2019 and 33 in 2020. Among the most serious were the arrests of Amade Abubacar and Germano Adriano, both journalists on the Nacedje Community Radio in Macomia district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, in January and February 2019. No serious proof of any crime was presented, and no trial has ever been held.

Even worse was the kidnapping of another Cabo Delgado community radio journalist, Ibraimo Mbaruco, in Palma district on 7 April 2020. The last text message he sent to a colleague that evening said he was "surrounded by soldiers". Nothing has been heard of Mbaruco since, and his family does not know whether he is alive or dead.

MISA noted that terrorist attacks have closed down four community radio stations in Cabo Delgado, two of them in Muidumbe district, and the others in Macomia and Mocimboa da Praia.

MISA also points to the arson attack against the Maputo offices of the weekly paper "Canal de Mocambique" on 28 August 2020 - the first time in Mozambican history that anyone has tried to destroy a newspaper by fire. "This was the height of hatred against press freedom", MISA remarked.

"These serious violations of press freedoms are growing with impunity before the silence of the authorities who are often suspected of ordering some crimes against the media", the report said.

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