Mozambique charges journalists investigating rhino poaching

February 20, 2015 4:24 PM ET

New York, February 20, 2015--Mozambican authorities have charged two international journalists with trespassing and invasion of privacy in connection with their investigation of rhino poaching, according to news reports and one of the journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Mozambique to drop the charges and ensure the journalists' safety.

Bartholomaeus Grill, a correspondent for the German weekly Der Spiegel, and Torbjoern Selander, a Swedish freelance photographer, were apprehended by residents as they were reporting in the village of Mavodze in southern Mozambique on February 16, according to news reports and Selander, who spoke to CPJ. The villagers accused the journalists of being spies and took them to the police station, where they were held for several hours. They were released after the German and Swedish embassies intervened on their behalf, Selander said.

Selander told CPJ that Mozambican officials charged them with trespassing and invasion of privacy. He said they were scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

Grill and Selander were looking for an individual who is known as the kingpin of rhino poaching and is considered a "godfather" in the village, Grill told Agence France-Presse. The village borders South Africa's Kruger National Park and forms part of a vast transfrontier conservation area. Poaching is an important source of income for the community, news reports said.

Mozambican government officials have pledged to take action to prevent and eradicate rhino poaching and other illegal activities in the country. On Saturday, ministers and delegates from Mozambique and other countries reaffirmed their commitment to do so, according to news reports.

"Journalistic investigations into rhino poaching and the corruption that sustains it should be welcomed, not punished," said Sue Valentine, CPJ's Africa program coordinator. "If the Mozambican authorities are serious about ending this illegal trade that risks undermining the valuable ecotourism economy in the region, they should target the criminals, not the messengers."

Selander told CPJ that he was concerned for their safety. He said that the trial was scheduled to take place in the same community where they were first apprehended. The journalist said that the individual pressing charges was the "kingpin" in the illegal wildlife trade who was very influential in the village. He said that he would feel more confident if their trial took place in a court in the capital city of Maputo.

Georgina Zandamela, the press officer at the state attorney general's office, and Pedro Cossa, a press representative at the police central command in Maputo, did not immediately respond to CPJ's calls for comment. CPJ was able to reach two representatives of the Mozambican embassy in Washington. One asked that CPJ call back on Monday and the other denied any knowledge of the case.

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