Mozambicans will go to the polls in October to elect their next leaders. Provincial governors will be elected rather than being appointed by the president, giving people a direct say in who becomes their provincial leader.
The lead-up to the election has been characterised by disturbing developments in Cabo Delgado province in the north. In the past 17 months, more than 100 people have been killed and more than 500 homes burned by unknown people described as militants.
The authorities’ response has been inadequate and they are failing in their most basic responsibility: – to protect lives.
In what appears to be a deliberate ploy to limit media freedom and access to information, journalists, human rights defenders, activists, civil society organisations and researchers who have spoken out against the attacks and killings are being harassed, intimidated, abducted and arbitrarily detained.
Mozambique is facing one of its worst economic crises since 2015. Triggered by what many people consider to be illegal and secret loans — amounting to $2.2-billion — taken out on the watch of former president Armando Guebuza, the crisis has left the country almost bankrupt, depriving the poor of their livelihoods. Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang has been arrested in South Africa for his involvement in signing the loans.
On January 5, Amade Abubacar, a community radio journalist, was abducted and held by the military and later charged with “violation of state secrets through information technology” and “instigation of the public to commit crimes using information technology”. He was abducted while interviewing and photographing people who had fled their villages after the attacks. Amade is still in detention.
In December last year, investigative journalist Estacio Valoi was abducted along with two others by the military and held incommunicado for two days in Mocímboa da Praia district, north of Pemba, accused of spying and aiding and abetting the militants. The three were later released without charge although their equipment remains confiscated by the military for “further investigation”.
In June last year, Pindai Dube, who works for eNCA, was arrested by police in Pemba and accused of spying. He was released three days later without charge.
In the week of January 21 to 24 this year, police surrounded the offices of the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), a civil society organisation that has been reporting on corruption, accountability, transparency and good governance in the country. The CIP has been at the forefront of educating Mozambicans about the implications and significance of the loans for which Chang signed state guarantees.
In August last year, the Council of Ministers introduced a new law requiring local and foreign journalists and media organisations to pay prohibitive accreditation and licensing fees. The uproar that followed this decision forced the government to shelve the law.
The list of human rights violations goes on.
The fact that brutal crackdowns and repression are increasing just eight months before the elections is deeply worrying and it sends a chilling message to anyone with dissenting views that they will face the consequences.
The authorities must end the crackdown on human rights defenders, activists and civil society organisations and respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement for all, before, during and after the elections. This must begin by ensuring the protection of space for all to air their views.
David Matsinhe and Camile Cortez work at Amnesty International as a researcher and a campaigner respectively