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Press freedom group condemns attempted kidnapping of Mozambican editor

One of Mozambique’s most senior journalists escaped a kidnapping attempt in Maputo on New Year’s Eve.

Matias Guente, the executive editor of Canal de Moçambique, was accosted in the afternoon of December 31 by three men while in the capital’s Alto Maé area, right behind the headquarters of the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces. The men were armed with guns, a baseball bat and a golf club.

Guente was driving to visit relatives in the area.

“Apparently the unidentified criminals were following the journalist, who was going to visit relatives in the area. When he stopped his vehicle, they dragged him out of his car and tried to force him into their vehicle,” Canal de Moçambique reported. “Fortunately for Guente, the road was narrow, which caused a traffic jam, and street hawkers who were close by started shouting. This enabled the journalist to flee his assailants and enter a nearby garage.”

Guente sustained injuries in the attack and required medical attention.

The identity of the attackers is not yet known. Police have launched an investigation.

The attack on Guente was condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed that yet another respected and outspoken journalist, Matias Guente, was the victim of a violent abduction attempt in Mozambique [two weeks ago],” said CPJ Africa director Angela Quintal. 

She added: “CPJ has, over the years, documented abductions and assaults of journalists and human rights defenders in Mozambique, aimed at the apparent silencing of government critics. We urge Mozambican authorities to ensure that this attack is speedily and credibly investigated. President Filipe Nyusi’s administration must ensure a safe environment for journalists to work freely and without harassment or intimidation.”

Quintal said that Mozambique’s government must send a strong message that it will not condone impunity in attacks on journalists, and that a failure to do “runs the risk of perceived complicity”.

The attack was condemned by the United States embassy in Mozambique. “The embassy of the United States in Mozambique strongly condemns the December 31 attack on Mozambican journalist and executive editor of Canal de Moçambique, Matias Guente. While we are unaware of the motives behind or perpetrators of this act, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are pillars in any democratic society and an attack on a journalist is a direct attack on these values,” the embassy said in a statement.

The past couple of years have seen a worrying shrinking of the space for independent media in Mozambique. In one incident, journalist Amade Abubacar was arrested while interviewing people fleeing attacks in Cabo Delgado province. He was detained without charge for several months, and sustained injuries in custody.

In another incident, the Mozambican government attempted to impose prohibitively expensive fees on foreign journalists — $2 500 (about R35 915) per reporting trip — in an apparent attempt to discourage reporting from the country. The new fees were not enforced, after an outcry from journalists’ associations and rights groups.

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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