Mozambique: Mayor Acquitted of Criminal Libel, but Must Pay Damages

Judge's gavel (file photo)

Maputo — A court in the central Mozambican province of Zambezia has acquitted the Mayor of Quelimane, Manuel de Araujo, of criminal libel against two members of his former political party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), Jose Lobo and Domingos Albuquerque.

Cited by the German agency DW Africa, Lobo and Albuquerque claim that, when he took office as Mayor, in February 2019, Araujo accused them of plotting to assassinate him.

Araujo was acquitted under a law of April 2020 which granted amnesty for crimes punishable with imprisonment of up to one year as part of a package of measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 respiratory disease. (The argument was that amnestying relatively minor offences would reduce overcrowding in the prisons. Such overcrowding is an invitation to the spread of Covid-19).

But the amnesty was "without prejudice to civil liability arising from the acts committed". So the civil case by the two MDM members against Araujo continued.

Lobo and Albuquerque are demanding that Araujo pay them seven million meticais (about 123,000 US dollars, at current exchange rates) in libel damages. Lobo said that such a financial penalty would have a "disciplining" effect on the mayor.

"The judge advised us to negotiate the damages", he said. Lobo added that Araujo's claims had a serious effect on the MDM members and their families. "Even taxi drivers ask us 'Did you want to kill Manuel de Araujo?'" he said.

The court case was repeatedly delayed, because Araujo failed to turn up. On Tuesday, he finally appeared at the Quelimane court, but neither Araujo nor his lawyer commented to reporters on the proceedings.

The judge said the two sides must reach agreement on the damages to be paid by 14 May. A member of the ruling Frelimo Party also said Araujo had libelled him, but he did not join the suit of the two MDM members.

Araujo was elected a member of the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, for the main opposition party, Renamo, in the 2004 general election. But he defected from Renamo to the MDM and ran as the MDM candidate in the mayoral by-election in Quelimane in 2011. In the national municipal elections in 2013, he was once again the MDM's candidate for Quelimane. On both occasions he won, easily defeating both the Renamo and Frelimo candidates.

Araujo owed his mayoral career to the MDM, and MDM members in Quelimane wanted him to stand for a third time in 2018. But instead, he defected back to Renamo, and won re-election as the Renamo candidate.

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