Attacks on the Press 2000: Mozambique

ALTHOUGH MOZAMBIQUE IS NOT KNOWN FOR VICIOUS ATTACKS on press freedom, the cold-blooded execution of editor Carlos Cardoso on November 22 came as no surprise to his colleagues and friends. Cardoso was known for his open criticism of political leaders. Shortly before his death, Cardoso’s fax newsletter, Metical, aggressively covered financial scandals, anti-government demonstrations, and other controversial issues. Local reporters believe the journalist was killed because of his uncompromising exposés of official corruption and his aggressive editorial style.

Though the December 1999 multi-party elections were labeled free and fair by international and domestic observers, the opposition Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) alleged vote rigging and challenged the victory of President Joaquim Chissano and his Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). RENAMO leaders also accused the local press of an overwhelming bias in favor of FRELIMO, and alleged that the media was unfairly distorting the truth about RENAMO’s popular support.

These two charges resonated all through 2000, as elected RENAMO officials refused to participate in parliamentary debates until October, and sponsored state-wide demonstrations in November that resulted in around 40 deaths and numerous arrests. RENAMO also remained suspicious of the media, particularly state-owned or parastatal outlets.

On September 30, RENAMO officials vented their frustration on two local journalists, Victor Machirica of Noticias and Castigo Luis, a reporter for Radio Mozambique. Both men were threatened and harassed by security guards who tried to prevent them from covering a weekend RENAMO meeting. And although the two journalists were properly accredited for the event, they were accused of spying for FRELIMO.

Though Mozambique’s Constitution provides for freedom of the press, the 1991 Press Law contains statutes that permit press freedom to be abridged in order to “respect” the Constitution, human dignity, and imperatives of foreign policy and national defense. The Press Law also holds that in cases of defamation against the president, truth is not a defense. The vagueness of these provisions allows officials to prosecute journalists for a wide range of speech that the Constitution would appear to protect.

Nevertheless, the government is generally tolerant of criticism and the media has had a significant impact on social and political life in Mozambique. On May 30, for example, the attorney general’s office tried unsuccessfully to force Cardoso to reveal the source of an official letter that Metical had published a few days before. Written by Assistant Attorney General Afonso Antunes, the letter criticized the government’s failure to prosecute the main suspects in a recent bank scandal. Press coverage of the scandal led President Chissano to dismiss the most senior officials in the attorney general’s office in July.

For the most part, the independent media in Mozambique remained lively and critical. However, a low national literacy rate (under 40 percent), and high production costs hampered print media. For both these reasons, radio is the most important news medium in the country. Though only government stations are capable of countrywide broadcasts, there are local broadcasts in almost every urban center, and new stations continue to open across the country.

The state-run Radio Mozambique network is known for objective and fair news coverage and is considered the most reliable source of information in the country. Radio Mozambique has historically broadcast in Portuguese, a language that only 30 percent of the population understands. In response, the network recently started using indigenous languages in its provincial broadcasts. It now broadcasts in 18 African languages, as well as Portuguese, English, and French. On September 30, President Chissano praised the developmental role played by radio professionals in the 25 years since independence, stressing Radio Mozambique’s contributions to “socialization, education, the consolidation of peace, and the promotion of human rights.”

Indeed, radio played a vital role in rebuilding the country after devastating February and March floods displaced an estimated 300,000 people. The Rapid Radio Response Project, launched by international media organizations, distributed portable wind-up radios to thousands of flood victims who might otherwise have been entirely cut off from the news.

MAY 30
Carlos Cardoso, Metical

Cardoso, editor of the daily fax newsletter Metical, was asked to appear at the Attorney General’s office in the capital, Maputo. The summons resulted from Metical‘s publication of a leaked letter from the Attorney General’s office.

Written by Assistant Attorney General Afonso Antunes, the letter criticized the government’s failure to bring the main suspects in a major banking fraud to justice.

After the letter appeared in Metical, Attorney General Antonio Namburete immediately suspended Antunes from meetings of his office’s decision-making body, the Technical Council, and ordered an inquiry into the leak.

On June 2, Cardoso visited the Attorney General’s office “as a matter of courtesy,” even though he was not legally obliged to do so. During the meeting, he was asked to reveal the name of the person who had leaked the letter to Metical. He refused to do so, on the grounds that Antunes himself had described the document as an “open letter.”

Victor Machirica, Noticias
Castigo Luis, Radio Mozambique

Machirica, a correspondent for the state-owned daily Noticias in the town of Chimoio, was invited to cover a weekend meeting of the opposition Mozambique National Resistance Party (RENAMO) in Chimoio.

After leaving the meeting early, Machirica was surrounded by five RENAMO security guards who questioned him about the content of his notes and asked why he had left early. The guards also threatened to beat Machirica and accused him of collecting information for the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). As they were about to seize the reporter’s notebook, a RENAMO party official who recognized Machirica stopped the guards and apologized to the reporter.

Luis, an accredited Radio Mozambique reporter, was barred from the same meeting by RENAMO security guards, who accused him of seeking to tape the statements of RENAMO speakers in order to pass them on to FRELIMO. The guards also tried to grab his tape recorder and threatened to attack him.

Carlos Cardoso, Metical

Veteran independent journalist Carlos Cardoso, editor of the daily fax newsletter Metical, was shot dead as he left his paper’s offices in the Maputo suburb of Polana. After two vehicles cut off Cardoso’s car, two unidentified assassins opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles, killing him instantly and seriously wounding his driver.

One week before his death, Cardoso had launched a campaign against what he called the “gangster faction” in the ruling FRELIMO party, which he accused of provoking recent political violence in the country.

Recently, Metical had been reporting aggressively on alleged wrongdoing at the Mozambique Commercial Bank, the London-based anticensorship organization ARTICLE 19 reported. And on the day of Cardoso’s assassination, Radio Mozambique journalist Custadio Rafael was attacked and beaten and his tongue was slashed for “speaking too much,” according to news reports. Rafael had also been investigating the Mozambique Commercial Bank scandal.

Cardoso, 48, was an experienced investigative journalist who had become one of Mozambique’s foremost media personalities. He was internationally acclaimed for his groundbreaking reporting on political corruption and organized crime in Mozambique, a country that is still recovering from a brutal, 17-year civil war.

Earlier in his career, Cardoso served as editor and later director of the Mozambique state news agency AIM, from which he resigned in 1989. Before founding Metical in 1998, Cardoso ran another independent fax newsletter, Mediafax, which he launched in 1992. He sympathized politically with FRELIMO but often lambasted the government in his editorials.