Mozambican journalists forced to operate undercover to ward off random detention

About half-a dozen journalists have been arrested in the line of duty since last June
Relatives hold on March 1, 2013 the front page of the local newspaper that published photos of Mido Macia, the taxi driver who was dragged to death by South African Police in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg, outside Macia’s home. “It’s obvious that Mido Macia’s rights were violated in the most extreme way,” Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said. “The behavior of the suspended members is condemned…in the strongest terms.” AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE (Photo by ALEXANDER JOE / AFP)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Mozambican government Thursday of arbitrarily arresting journalists covering the fight against an insurgency in the country’s north.

“Mozambique’s state security forces are intimidating, detaining, and prosecuting journalists covering the fighting against an armed Islamist group in the northern province of Cabo Delgado,” HRW said in a statement. 

About half-a dozen journalists have been arrested in the line of duty since last June, as well as drivers, interpreters, and other crew members, according to a foreign media count. 

Two reporters remain in custody.

State forces are battling a group allegedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim-majority province. 

Originally known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama — Arabic for “followers of the prophet” — the group is commonly referred to by locals and officials as “Al-Shabaab”, although it has no known link to the notorious Somali jihadist group of the same name.

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Since October 2017, Islamist fighters have oppressed remote communities in the gas-rich region, killing about 200 people and forcing thousands from their homes.

Rights groups have accused security forces combatting the group of serious abuses, including summary executions and random detention.

“The Mozambican government’s actions to silence the media in Cabo Delgado obstruct public scrutiny of the military operations and alleged abuses,” said HRW’s southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga.

“Mozambique’s fight against insurgents is no excuse to unduly constrain media freedom.”

This week, Germano Daniel Adriano, who works for a local radio and television broadcaster, Radio e Televisao Macomia, was the latest to be arrested. He remains in custody.

Before him, Amade Abubacar, who works for the state-owned Comunitaria Nacedje de Macomia broadcaster, was seized by police on January 5 at a bus stop while conducting interviews and taking photographs of people fleeing militant attacks. He is being held on espionage charges.

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HRW said 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”.

The rights watchdog listed several cases over the past nine months of journalists, including foreign correspondents and academic researchers, being detained while working in the region, or being denied accreditation. 

It said the BBC was refused accreditation to report from the region last June. 

A local journalist said intelligence officers had warned him not to write about the badly-hit towns of Macomia and Mocimboa da Praia unless government officials were visiting.

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Another, who often arrived first on the scene after a jihadist attack, told HRW he was warned by a police detective to “stop acting like a brave man if I loved my life and my family.”

An editor based in the provincial capital Nampula told HRW that journalist are being forced to operate under cover to avoid arrest.

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