Police are seen in Maputo, Mozambique, on February 6, 2021. Police recently harassed and detained a group of journalists covering a protest. (AFP/Alfredo Zuniga)

Mozambique police beat and detain journalists covering demonstrations

On September 9, 2021, police in Mozambique’s central Nampula province harassed, beat, and detained at least six journalists covering protests over the government’s alleged delays in distributing financial relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to news reports and the journalists involved, who spoke with CPJ in phone interviews and via messaging app.

The journalists were covering a demonstration in front of the National Institute for Social Action (INAS), a government agency responsible for such relief, according to those sources.

Police used batons to beat José Junior, a reporter with the privately owned Haq TV broadcaster, and Manuel Tadeu, a camera operator with the outlet, on their legs and back, both journalists told CPJ. The officers confiscated their equipment, detained them in the yard of the INAS office, and said that they needed written permission to cover protests, they said.

Haq TV journalists José Junior (left, photo by Evaristo Guerra) and Manuel Tadeu (photo by Tadeu).

Officers also roughly detained Emerson Joaquim, a reporter for the privately owned online broadcaster Afro TV, and Osvaldo Sitora, a camera operator with the outlet, those journalists told CPJ. Sitora told CPJ that four police officers yelled at him and punched him in the back while detaining him, despite wearing an Afro TV vest and being clearly identifiable as a journalist. The officers said he could not report on the demonstration, and shoved him into the INAS yard. Joaquim told CPJ that another officer forced him into that yard as well.

Officers beat Celestino Manuel, a reporter with the privately owned Media Mais broadcaster, with batons on his legs, buttocks, and back, and confiscated his camera before handcuffing and detaining him, he told CPJ. Manuel said the officers reacted aggressively as soon as they saw him filming.

Police also detained Leonardo Gimo, a reporter with the privately owned TV Sucesso broadcaster, he told CPJ. Gimo said he was accompanied by a camera operator, who was not detained or harmed.

Police held the six journalists for about an hour in the INAS office’s yard, and then returned their gear and let them go without charge after a senior officer intervened and ordered their release. The Mozambique chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa condemned the assaults and detentions in a statement, saying that the institute had intervened and called on police to release the journalists.

The journalists told CPJ that they did not sustain any serious injuries throughout the incident.

Clockwise from top left: Emerson Joaquim (photo by Camões Manuel),Osvaldo Sitora (photo by Milton Maeca), Celestino Manuel (photo by Manuel), and Leonardo Gimo (photo by Gimo).

A spokesperson for the Nampula Police department, Zacarias Nacute, told CPJ over the phone that the journalists were detained because the officers mistook them for demonstrators. Nacute added that no journalists were harmed, and while officers “might exceed themselves in situations where police are confronted with public order disturbances,” the police force “respects journalists’ rights to inform the population.”  

Gimo told CPJ that he believed “local police act as guardians of the ruling party’s image, so they often harass and beat journalists that expose the contrasting reality on the ground.”

Manuel said that he was “actually on the same side of the street as the police were, I had my camera, my [press] ID on my chest and could not have been mistaken as a demonstrator. Still, they assault me and the officer who put me in cuffs like a criminal said I should be put in a cell for inciting the demonstrators.”

In a separate incident, on July 23, police officers insulted, pushed, and confiscated equipment from Naima Gimo and Marcos Nazario, both reporters with the privately owned Radio Catandica broadcaster, the journalists told CPJ via phone and messaging app.

Naima Gimo (left, photo by Gimo) and Marcos Nazario (photo by Serio Júlio Xadreque).

They were covering protests by local vendors over increased taxes in Mozambique’s western Manica Province, when police surrounded them and four officers shoved Nazario, causing him to fall and injure his arm, he said.

In August, a court in Manica province’s Báruè district sentenced three officers to two months in prison for assault over their shoving and harassing the journalists, which was then converted into a payment of 5,000 meticais (US$78) in damages to Gimo and Nazario, according to a report by MISA and a copy of the sentencing document, which CPJ reviewed.

Manica police spokesperson Noémio Razão told CPJ in a phone interview that the officers were held responsible by the court and that police had reminded all officers to maintain public order without resorting to violence.

In June 2021, Mozambican police assaulted and detained at least five journalists, including Leonardo Gimo and Emerson Joaquim, as CPJ documented at the time.