Mozambique's press has flourished since a devastating 16-year civil war ended in 1992. However, journalists are still haunted by the 2000 murder of Carlos Cardoso, who was killed for his aggressive investigative reporting on a 1996 corruption scandal involving the state-controlled Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM). Although those who carried out the murder were tried and convicted, local journalists are still concerned that the masterminds behind the crime remain at large.
Dozens of private publications air a variety of opinions and frequently criticize the -ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and the main opposition party, Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), which comprises members of the former rebel movement. Private and community radio stations have proliferated, and local journalists praise state-run Radio Mozambique—the only radio station that broadcasts nationwide—for its independent coverage.
In November, the Mozambican Parliament approved an amended version of the previous constitution, including articles expanding freedom of expression and the press. The original constitution, passed in 1990, outlaws state censorship and defends the right of journalists to protect their sources; the amendments additionally guarantee the expression of "ideas of various currents of opinion" in the state-owned media. A previous article restricting journalists from reporting that might harm "the mandates of foreign policy and national defense" was removed, the state-run news agency AIM reported.
Six men accused of killing Cardoso were convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms in January 2003. In June 2004, seven men were convicted of involvement in corruption at BCM, including two who were already in jail for Cardoso's murder. However, during the murder trial, several of the defendants said that Nyimpine Chissano, a son of President Joaquim Chissano, had ordered the assassination. Law enforcement officials announced a separate investigation into Nyimpine's involvement in January 2003, although no developments were announced by the end of 2004. Local journalists hoped that the case would move forward after President Chissano stepped down in December.
Concerns that high-level officials were involved in the killing intensified in May, when Anibal Antonio dos Santos Jr., who was serving a 28-year sentence for leading the death squad that murdered Cardoso, escaped from a high-security prison in the capital, Maputo. The local press accused the prison of security lapses and alleged that dos Santos, known as Anibalzinho, was helped by influential people. Several police officers detained in connection with the jailbreak were later released.
It was not the first time Anibalzinho escaped from prison; in September 2002, he escaped while awaiting trial, only to be recaptured in South Africa and returned to Mozambique.
In late May, Anibalzinho applied for refugee status in Canada after being arrested by Interpol in Toronto. Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Mozambique. Hearings on the convicted killer's status continued throughout 2004 despite loud protests from Cardoso's friends and family and from press freedom groups such as Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, which argued that Anibalzinho should be returned to prison in Mozambique. In mid-December, Anibalzinho's refugee petition was denied, and at year's end, the case awaited a final ruling from Canada's immigration minister on whether he would be deported.
Local journalists told CPJ that corruption remains a sensitive topic for the press. While journalists are rarely jailed in Mozambique, criminal libel laws remain on the books and can have a chilling effect on reporting. In June, the Attorney General's Office threatened legal action against the privately owned daily newssheet Diario de Noticias (News Daily) for publishing articles claiming that Chissano had put pressure on the attorney general not to investigate cases of alleged corruption. At year's end, no action had been taken, but Diario de Noticias described the attorney general's statement as a "clear threat to press freedom," according to AIM.
In December, with Chissano stepping down after 18 years in power, Mozambique held presidential and parliamentary elections. Local journalists told CPJ they were able to cover the elections without any significant harassment. Chissano's FRELIMO party candidate, wealthy businessman Armando Guebuza, won more than 60 percent of the vote on a platform of speeding economic reforms and fighting corruption. According to local journalists, Guebuza also promised to strengthen individual rights, including freedom of expression and the press.
International observers said that while some voting irregularities occurred, they were not large enough to affect the outcome. More worrying was the low turnout, less than 50 percent of eligible voters. RENAMO leader and presidential candidate Afonso Dhlakama rejected the results, alleging widespread fraud, and said that RENAMO candidates would not take up their parliamentary seats.
In October, during the run-up to elections, authorities in the northern town of Angoche, a RENAMO stronghold, detained three men on accusations of defaming the head of state because they were carrying political leaflets that criticized Chissano and FRELIMO. Among other allegations, the leaflet accused Chissano of being behind Cardoso's murder, according to AIM. At least one of the men remained in detention at year's end, according to local sources.