CPJ presented its 2021 International Press Freedom Award to Mozambican journalist Matías Guente.
Guente is the executive editor of Canal de Moçambique, an independent weekly investigative newspaper, and its daily digital publication CanalMoz. In August 2020, unidentified individuals broke into the newspaper’s office, poured gasoline on the furniture and equipment, and set it ablaze. The fire destroyed the newsroom, furniture, the outlet’s archives, and all the equipment used to produce content.
But Guente and his team refused to be cowed. The next day, the staff set up an open-air newsroom outside the office to produce that week’s edition of the newspaper. The headline on the front page that week was “We will not bow to fire.”
A local press freedom group said the attack could be linked to a set of reports from Canal de Moçambique, published in the weeks prior to the attack, that investigated the kidnapping of businessmen by a crime syndicate allegedly linked to police, the security contracts of multinationals operating in Cabo Delgado, and an alleged manipulation to a fuel marketing process at the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy. The ministry suspended a fuel marketing deal following that investigation.
Guente told CPJ that he and Canal de Moçambique had faced official harassment and intimidation in recent years. The attackers were “trying just to shut down the paper, because they know how relevant we are to democracy,” he said. In July 2020, Guente was interrogated by local officials and charged with violation of state secrecy and conspiracy against the state. Those charges were later dropped due to the lack of evidence against him, but local officials made clear that they could be reintroduced. In December 2019, unidentified assailants beat Guente and attempted to kidnap him. He told CPJ that he believed the incidents were related.
The attacks on Guente are indicative of an alarming deterioration of press freedom in the country. By honoring him with an award, CPJ is shining a light on the intimidation of journalists seeking to cover subjects seen as sensitive by authorities, including alleged corruption, human rights issues, and the conflict in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado province.