Mozambique’s state security forces are intimidating, detaining, and prosecuting journalists covering the fighting against an Islamist group in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.
HRW quoted its Southern Africa director, Mr Dewa Mavhinga, saying that the military had for 13 days this month, held incommunicado Mr Amade Abubacar, a journalist who was interviewing villagers displaced by insurgents, then turned him over for civilian prosecution.
“Since June 2018, the government has barred various media organisations and correspondents from visiting the province, while the army detained journalists who managed to go there or police arrested them on bogus charges,” Mr Mavhinga was quoted saying.
“The Mozambican government’s actions to silence the media in Cabo Delgado obstruct public scrutiny of the military operations and alleged abuses.”
Safely and freely
Mr Mavhinga appealed to the government to immediately release Mr Abubacar and allow him and other journalists to operate safely and freely.
The insurgent attacks in Cabo Delgado Province began in October 2017.
Cabo Delgado Province is about 1,663km north of Maputo and borders Tanzania. It boasts of minerals such as gold, grenadines, aquamarines, tourmalines, blue topaz and green tourmalines and attracts many foreigners.
Mr Abubacar, who works for Rádio e Televisao Comunitária Nacedje (Nacedje Community Radio and Television) and as a freelance writer for other local media groups, was arrested on January 5.
A local media rights group, MISA Mozambique, said Mr Abubacar was transferred on the day of his arrest to the military barracks in Mueda District, where soldiers allegedly beat and ill-treated him, and held him without access to a lawyer or family members for 13 days.
Under Mozambican law, military personnel are prohibited from holding detainees in the barracks. Suspects detained during military operations must be handed over to police, who should proceed with arrests and either release or charge them within 48 hours.
HRW has also documented other cases of arbitrary detentions of journalists and other abuses by government security forces in villages attacked by the armed Islamist group known locally as both Al-Sunna wa Jama’a and Al-Shabaab.
The group has no publicly known link to the Somali armed group Al-Shabaab.
An editor based in the northern province of Nampula, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told HRW that soldiers operating in Cabo Delgado targeted anyone perceived as trying to uncover abuses in the region and accused them of being insurgents.
On June 30, 2018, soldiers stopped a Zimbabwean journalist in Pemba city, together with his interpreter and driver, while he was interviewing residents on the streets, according to HRW.
"The same week, a team from BBC Africa was denied accreditation to work in Cabo Delgado Province."
Last July 10, the group further documented, soldiers detained a three-member crew from an international news agency for about three hours outside Chitolo village, in Mocimboa da Praia District.
"Two Cabo Delgado-based Mozambican journalists said that members of the Intelligence had warned them not to report events in some villages of Macomia and Mocimboa da Praia, unless there is a visit by government officials”.
On December 17, soldiers detained an academic, a journalist, and a driver in Mocimboa da Praia District, after they interviewed residents of Chitolo Village, HRW documented.