Attacks on the Press 1999: Mozambique

Mozambique has changed radically from the days of official censorship and state media control. Since the end of the 17-year civil war between the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) government and the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) rebel movement in 1992 and the subsequent multiparty elections in 1994, the country has made considerable strides toward democracy–not least in the area of press freedom. Today, Mozambique has 40 newspapers and magazines, 10 radio stations, four television channels, and relatively progressive media laws.

The 1990 constitution introduced multi-party democracy to Mozambique. It also contained a bill of rights that prohibits censorship and guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to information. A 1991 press law reaffirmed the principles laid down in the 1990 constitution, granting journalists wide-ranging rights, freedoms, and protections.

Moreover, the 1990 constitution has been undergoing a process of review since 1998; a new draft constitution was circulated for public discussion in 1999. Key benefits included a specific provision for fair access to public broadcasting time for all political parties, trade unions, and professional organizations (particularly during election periods) and another provision guaranteeing the right of journalists to protect their sources.

Despite these advances, there were widespread calls for reform of the defamation law. Although a June court ruling dismissed a US$2 million suit brought by a politician against the partly state-controlled weekly Domingo, conviction for libel can still mean prison, exorbitant fines, and suspension of the right to publish.

While press freedom was generally respected in the capital, Maputo, abuses did occur in provincial areas. The most blatant example was the illegal detention of Fernando Quinova, a journalist working for the state-owned Mass Communications Institute (ICS) in Cabo Delgado Province. Quinova was held incommunicado after publishing an article about the death of a man in police custody. In May 1999, a police officer was prosecuted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for his role in Quinova’s detention.

Independent journalists have complained that the government gives state media journalists privileged access to official information. The December 3 Ð 5 presidential and parliamentary elections highlighted this issue along with the press’ responsibility to give equal coverage to all political parties. President Joaquim Chissano and his ruling FRELIMO party won both elections. The former RENAMO rebel movement, now an opposition party, alleged vote rigging and disputed the election results.

In a subsequent report on media coverage of the elections, the London-based anti-censorship group Article 19 and the Mozambique Human Rights League (LDH) commended state media for an overall improvement in the balance and impartiality of its election coverage since the 1994 elections but cited a continued bias toward FRELIMO, particularly in newspapers such as Noticias and Domingo.

Already in October, RENAMO official Manuel Pereira had threatened to ban the local press from covering RENAMO’s election campaign. Pereira claimed the media were distorting the truth in their campaign coverage and had downplayed the popularity that he claimed to enjoy in Sofala Province. He also alleged that the ruling FRELIMO party had bribed some journalists to smear RENAMO and its political allies. These statements coincided with violent clashes between the rival parties’ supporters in various parts of the country.

In November, RENAMO told the daily paper Noticias to suspend all coverage of the election campaign of its leader and presidential candidate, Afonso Dhaklama, alleging that the paper was biased against RENAMO. On December 8, RENAMO supporters attacked two Noticias reporters while votes were being counted.

February 15
Fernando Quinova, Mass Communications Institute IMPRISONED

Quinova, the Cabo Delgado Province correspondent for the state-owned Mass Communications Institute, was arrested in the town of Chiure, in the northern part of the province, and charged with slandering the police and leaking information.

The arrest was in connection with a report by Quinova, broadcast by Radio Mozambique in December 1998, in which he criticized police conduct in the arrest of Cabral Manica, a larceny suspect who died in police custody the previous October, allegedly after being tortured.

This was the second time Quinova had been jailed over this report. After the broadcast, police detained Quinova without charge at a local jail, where he was held incommunicado and in violation of Mozambique law, which requires that suspects be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours of their arrest. Police reportedly stole 400,000 meticals (US$32) from Quinova while he was in detention. He escaped from prison in January after 23 days of detention, during which police demanded that he pay them 100,000 meticals (US$8) for “the privilege of seeing the sun.” After his escape, Quinova walked through the bush for two weeks before reaching Pemba, the provincial capital, on January 25, where he was able to telephone for assistance. He was rearrested on February 15.

CPJ protested Quinova’s first imprisonment in a Febuary 9 letter to President Joaquim Alberto Chissano. The journalist was released from his second jailing on March 6, having been held in a dark cell and fed one meal a day.

December 8
Salomao Muiambo, Noticias ATTACKED
Amadeu Marrengula, Noticias ATTACKED

Muiambo and Marrengula, reporter and photographer, respectively, with the “semiprivate” (formerly government-owned) daily Noticias, were attacked while trying to cover an internal protest demonstration held by disgruntled operatives of the RENAMO opposition party.

A crowd of about 100 RENAMO workers were demonstrating outside the house of a senior party official, demanding payment for work done during the recent presidential and parliamentary election campaign. When the protesters saw the two journalists (identified by the Noticias sign on their car), they chased them, threatening to beat and even kill them. The two managed to escape unharmed but lost their camera.

RENAMO had expressed distrust of Noticias on several previous occasions, claiming that the paper was biased against them.